Sermon preached on Luke 1:26-45 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 12/19/2010 in Novato, CA.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
Blessed is the Fruit of Your Womb
It’s that time of the year again. This week we celebrate Christmas and especially remember the birth of Jesus. It’s typical at this time to remember all the praise and worship of Jesus at his birth. We probably think first of the angels who sang, “Glory to God in the highest,” and the shepherds who quickly spread the word. We also are probably quick to think of the wise men who came and worshipped Jesus and presented him with presents. And yet even before all of that, and even before he was born, people were praising and acknowledging the life of Jesus.
We see that here today. Here in this passage you have praise abounding for Jesus while his human body was just beginning to be knit in his mother’s womb. In this passage you see John the Baptist, himself in the womb, leaping in praise for the unborn Jesus. You have Elizabeth, John’s mother, confessing and proclaiming this unborn child as her Lord. The angel Gabriel here comes down before any of later angels who meet the shepherds in the field, and here he heralds the coming of Christ. He heralds the virgin birth, the incarnation, and the glory of the messianic ministry of Jesus. Mary, takes this all in, responding in faith submitting herself to obedience. Months before the larger world would celebrate the birth of Jesus, here we get a snapshot of four people already celebrating, John, Elizabeth, Gabriel, and Mary.
Let’s spend a few moments thinking about the roles of various people we see here in this passage. Let’s think first about the role of John the Baptist and Elizabeth here in this passage. What role do they serve in this passage? Their role is a confirming role. A confirming role. Mary is essentially sent to go visit them, with the purpose that what the angel said would be confirmed to her. We too have this record to find confirmation about Jesus.
Look at verse 39. After Mary met with the angel Gabriel, she pays a visit to her relative Elizabeth. This is the mother of John the Baptist, who is also on the way, though about 6 months farther along in her pregnancy than Mary. Verse 41 tells us what happened when Mary arrived. Mary shows up and the fetus who is John the Baptist leaps inside Elizabeth’s womb! Now, it’s quite normal for babies at that point to move around inside the mother’s womb. It’s quite normal for the mother’s to feel them. And yet this is more than just a big kick. The text tells us otherwise. Twice we’re told the reason here. First the narrator tells us the fact. Verse 41. As soon as Mary greeted Elizabeth, the baby John the Baptist leaped inside her. After that Elizabeth gives us her inspired interpretation of this leaping. Read verse 44. She tells Mary, “As soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.” I mention that this is an inspired interpretation by Elizabeth because verse 41 tells us that Holy Spirit entered Elizabeth upon Mary’s arrival.
And what you have going on here with Elizabeth and John the Baptist is that they are essentially confirming the identity of Jesus. They are identifying the baby within the womb of Mary, as the Lord. That’s actually Elizabeth’s words in verse 43. She’s calls Mary the mother of her Lord. That means that she’s saying that that little unborn baby inside Mary is Elizabeth’s Lord. Baby Jesus was probably just a small little bundle at the time… maybe not even big enough to see, if you could peer insider her womb. Mary might not even have been showing at that time. And yet Elizabeth, inspired by the Holy Spirit, gives her confession of faith. She confesses and proclaims that this unborn child is her very own Lord. John the Baptist, essentially does the same, as well as an unborn child could do. Obviously unborn children in their second trimester don’t have a lot of mental faculties yet compared. This too was surely an impulse of the Holy Spirit in John as well.
That Elizabeth and John the Baptist would function in this role, is not surprising. This is essentially the role that John the Baptist would eventually take on, once he’s born and grown up. He’d pave the way for the Messiah. He’d be the God-given forerunner to prepare the way of the Lord. He’d be the one to point to Jesus and say, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Well, right here in utero, God uses John in this way. And God uses his mother in the same way. Here Mary gets to be the first recipient of this confirmation ministry of John. She receives confirmation that what Gabriel had told her is indeed true. John the Baptist would later point many people to Jesus. Even from the womb, the first person who benefits from this is Jesus’ mother. John’s mother prophetically explains what her child who can’t even speak yet is doing. Together they serve in a confirming role, identifying the unborn Jesus as the Lord. Elizabeth’s final words recorded here give further confirmation. She says Mary is blessed for believing in what the Angel Gabriel had told her concerning her baby. That’s all part of the confirming role that Elizabeth and John perform her. They even confirm the words of Gabriel. Surely that would strengthen Mary’s faith in all of this too.
So let’s think for a moment next about Mary’s role in all of this. Her role is obviously in one part very practical. She would physically bear the child of Jesus and then nurture and raise up the boy. For the Lord God to be born a human, he would have to have a mother. Mary would be this mother. That is certainly her role here. But I’d like to think about two of the unique aspects presented here about this role. I want to think about how surprising this role is for her, and how also this is such a great blessing.
First, notice that this role by Mary is very surprising for her. The surprise begins right in verse 28 when an angel suddenly appears to her. You’ll notice part of that surprise described in Mary’s initial response in verse 29. She was troubled, considering the manner of his greeting. Wouldn’t you have that kind of response to if an angel suddenly shows up at your front door, talking the way he did!
Gabriel goes on to tell Mary in verse 31 that she is going to bear a baby, and that this baby will be the Messiah! Mary understood this to be a prediction of a virgin conception and birth, and she was right. You see her surprise expressed in verse 34. She asks how this could be! How could this be, because she hasn’t known a man yet? At this point, Mary was only betrothed to Joseph. They hadn’t become married yet. So, she was a virgin. And so she is rightly confused. Notice her question is not expressing doubt. She believes Gabriel. She just asks an honest question about the mystery of this. And we’re thankful she did, because Gabriel gives her an amazing answer. The Holy Spirit would overshadow her, verse 35. The result would be that she would become pregnant with the Son of God.
That’s amazing, that a virgin would conceive and bear the Son of God. Yet, Gabriel right away points her to another miraculous conception as well. She is told that her relative Elizabeth who was barren, now in her old age has conceived. And so two miraculous conceptions. One young virgin and one old barren woman. Two miraculous conceptions. And yet though all of this is surprising, it shouldn’t come as a complete surprise. Several places in the Bible record God opening up the wombs of the barren among those in the line of promise. And remember what that promise was. The promise all the way back in Genesis 3:15 was that God would raise up the seed of the woman to crush Satan. So God kept that promise. He opened up barren wombs along the way, until ultimately he did even more here with Mary. Here, to show that God’s promised savior was of his sending, God himself overshadows Mary and conceives in her virginity a baby. This surprising conception stands as the fulfillment of God’s promise to raise up a seed of the woman to be the savior of men.
But Mary’s role is not only surprising. It’s also a great blessing, she’s told. Twice she’s called blessed in this passage, by both Gabriel and Elizabeth; verses 28 and 41. That’s how they both address Mary. They both call her “Blessed among women.” Mary herself would acknowledge that later in this chapter, in verse 47. There she says that generations to come would call her blessed; and she is right. We stand here today acknowledging how blessed Mary was to be able to be the mother of Jesus. In verse 28, Gabriel calls Mary the highly favored one. The idea is that God has shown his grace to Mary in choosing her for this role. I mean, this is understandable. Think of what Mary gets to do. She is going to be the mother of Jesus. As Elizabeth said in verse 43, this is the mother of the Lord. Many Christians have called Mary the Mother of God. Sometimes this sits uncomfortably on our Protestant ears because we know that many have abused this idea. Many have exalted Mary to an improper position. And yet, that is technically correct a correct label to be used. Jesus is God come in the flesh. And so Mary is technically the mother of God; not that she gave birth to his divine nature, or anything like that. But in the sense of her bearing the God-Man Jesus Christ.
But the point to make here, is that this is an honor given to her. This is not something in her own worth. This is an act of God’s grace that Mary, a sinful human like all other humans, was given this honor. It’s not that Mary somehow earned this honor, as she was better than all the other women before her. No, the point of the language here in this chapter is that this was a special honor bestowed upon her. It was God’s gracious favor put upon here; it was God’s blessings given to her. But nothing here should tell us that she somehow deserved this honor or distinction. Instead, I think we should see it as an act of grace.
You see, what we should recognize is that all this is about Jesus. We talked about the role of three people so far. We talked about the confirming role of John the Baptist and Elizabeth. That was an important role. We also talked about the high role of Mary – able to be the mother of Jesus, the Son of God, the Messiah. And yet, this is all really about Jesus. The identity of Jesus is confirmed by John and Elizabeth. The virgin birth of Mary makes Jesus’ entrance into this world unique, bypassing the ordinary generation of sinful humans. The role of these other humans serves to highlight Jesus and his role. It’s Jesus and his messianic role that is really being highlighted here. That’s what makes the role of these other humans so special. It’s as they serve the Lord Jesus Christ.
We know this is all about Jesus because of what the Angel Gabriel tells us. When Gabriel visits Mary the main prophecy he gives spans three verses, verses 31-33. The first verse of that prophecy is about the virgin birth. That’s especially Mary’s role. And yet even that verse quickly turns to focus on Jesus’ role. Verses 32-33 especially describe his role. Let’s look again at those verses. Begin in verse 31, Gabriel says:
And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.
Gabriel’s announcement ultimately turns the focus away from Mary onto Christ. Yes, Mary is tremendously honored by her role as Jesus’ mother. But the honor comes in whom Jesus is. Jesus is the Messiah. He is God come in the flesh. He will be a savior. He will deliver people from sin and death. He will bring them into an eternal heavenly kingdom through faith in his name. Yes, it was a great honor for Mary. But Gabriel’s announcement quickly turns from telling Mary about that honor, to telling her and us about Jesus. This little baby just beginning to form in her womb, would be the long expected savior.
Of course we can tell here that Mary understood this. She knew that ultimately all this was not about her. It was about Jesus. We see this in verse 38. Mary’s response to this angelic announcement is simple, yet highly commendable. She says to the angel, “Behold the maid-servant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” In case you didn’t catch that, that means she’s calling herself a servant of the Lord, and submitting to this divinely appointed role. Think of this in contrast to Elizabeth’s statement in verse 43. Elizabeth calls Mary the mother of her Lord. That’s true. Mary is the mother of the Lord Jesus. But that’s not the language Mary uses to describe herself. She doesn’t say, “Behold, the mother of the Lord.” She says, “Behold the servant of the Lord.” This child would be her Lord as well. She would be his servant. Her response is one of submission and faith.
Elizabeth, of course, recognizes too that all of this is ultimately about Jesus. Yes, Elizabeth praises Mary. Yes, in verse 42, she repeats to Mary what the angel had told her. “Blessed are you among women.” There’s no missing the fact that Mary has such a high honor here. Elizabeth doesn’t disregard that. And yet, just as Gabriel turned to focus ultimately on Jesus, so does Elizabeth. Right after Elizabeth calls this blessing upon Mary in verse 42, she then follows by saying, “Blessed is the fruit of your womb.” Well, of course, that fruit is Jesus. That fruit is Elizabeth’s Lord.
The point I’m making is that though this passage has some important honors for Mary, and though there’s some focus on several different persons, the ultimate focus goes here to Jesus. That’s what Christmas is all about. We call Mary blessed. We rejoice how God used Elizabeth, and John the Baptist in a confirming role. We are excited to see how this was announced by angels. But what makes it something we celebrate at Christmas, is well, Christ. Mary bore Christ. That was her honor. Elizabeth and John point to Christ; that was their honor. Gabriel announces the birth and ministry of Christ. That was his distinction. But it all serves to highlight Jesus. It’s all praising and honoring the Messiah who would be born shortly into the world. It is this focus that we celebrate on Christmas.
And of course, it’s because of what Christ would go on to do in his life that we celebrate him. He died on the cross to pay the penalty for sin. He died and rose again to save sinners. And he offers now forgiveness and grace and eternal life through faith in him. Elizabeth encouraged Mary here in verse 45, saying, “Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.” Well, Mary did believe, and those things did come to fulfillment. And that call of faith is what each of us need today. Each of us are called today to believe in Jesus. That’s what Christmas is all about. You can gather together with your families on Christmas and eat some good food, and have some nice conversations. But this holiday is really about celebrating Christ and his salvation. That’s a salvation that we have through faith. Don’t let another Christmas go by, without knowing what it’s really all about. Believe in Jesus.
Saints of God, let me close today with two final points of application. I’d like to draw these final points of application from two questions that we see in this passage. Mary and Elizabeth both ask a question. I’d like to consider how these questions offer some application of this passage to us today.
First Mary’s question in verse 34. “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” That’s a fair question. She’s a virgin, and so she doesn’t understand how she could conceive a child. The answer that is given to her by the angel is a bit mysterious, but we get the general point. The Holy Spirit would overshadow her. Somehow God the Holy Spirit would come upon her and bring about this conception in a miraculous way. The angel then immediately points to a somewhat similar example, though obviously not quite of the same nature – that Elizabeth in her old age, was pregnant, even though being barren before. But the crowning part of the explanation is in verse 37. For with God nothing will be impossible.
Jesus would later use those same words to describe man’s salvation. Man can’t save himself. It would require God to work in people’s hearts. And that’s what God does. The Holy Spirit has fallen down upon every true believer at one point in their life. The Spirit now lives inside each believer. Mary experienced the Holy Spirit overshadowing her to form Jesus inside her. The Holy Spirit in much the same way continues to overshadow the saints to spiritually form Christ inside each of us, Galatians 4:19.
Well, if we can then find a bit of analogy between our life and Mary’s life, think of what Mary’s response to all of this was. Gabriel told Mary what her response should be. Verse 28. Rejoice, highly favored one. Well, if we are in Christ, we are God’s favored ones. His Spirit has worked in our hearts to form Christ in us. Let us have the same response Mary was to have. Let us believe and rejoice. Mary’s response was one of faith and joy. Let that be our response to Christ on Christmas, and all year long. Believe in him and rejoice in the great salvation that has come to us.
Elizabeth’s question is in verse 43. “But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” The text doesn’t explicitly give us the answer to her question. And yet we see the answer, don’t we. Why was Elizabeth honored with this visit? She was honored so as to be used by God. God had Mary come visit her, so that Elizabeth could prophesy by the Holy Spirit about this child in her womb. Elizabeth had a divine ministry to perform. She, like her son, would point to Jesus. She’d identify the Messiah, even before he was born. That’s why God had Mary come visit her.
And yet, this caused Elizabeth great joy. Her question in verse 43 implies this great joy. Mary was told to rejoice at the honor given to her. Well, here Elizabeth is rejoicing over the honor given to her – that the mother of her Lord had come to visit her. That same joy of Elizabeth is found in the child in her womb. In Verse 44, Elizabeth speaking by the Spirit says that the baby inside her leaped for joy. Both mother and child were full of joy at the honor and task they were given.
This too brings home an application to us. For, as Christians, it’s not just the mother of the Lord that has come to visit us. It is the Lord himself who has come to visit us. And he hasn’t just stopped by for a three month visit. He’s come to live forever inside us. And like Elizabeth, it’s not just a courtesy call. He came to visit Elizabeth so as to use her for ministry. And that’s true for us as well. The Lord has come to us, and lives inside us, and now he intends to use us. We too will be used for the Lord’s ministry in different ways. This too should cause us tremendous joy.
And so both Mary and Elizabeth’s questions present a call to rejoice. And they both present a call for service. Mary submit in faith by calling herself the servant of the Lord. Elizabeth is used for divine service, probably without really even realizing it. But may we joyfully take on that label this Christmas. As we started out by saying that Christmas is a time to rejoice and praise Christ. Well, let us rejoice and praise Christ; and let’s do it even through submitting ourselves to service today. I think of Paul who loved to use that label, the “servant of the Lord.” Let us rejoice today as we trust in Christ. May we say to God, “Behold the servant of the Lord.” May we say, “Here I am Lord, use me.” May it be our delight to serve Lord as we consider how blessed we are. For we have received God’s grace in Christ. Let us joyfully serve him all our days. Amen.
Copyright (c) 2010 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.