Sermon 12-19-2021: “For He Who Is Mighty Has Done Great Things for Me”

Scripture: Luke 1:35-56

Many years ago, I was talking to a woman who had been visiting the church I pastored at the time. She really, really liked our church, and wanted to join it… Except…

As a lifelong Roman Catholic, she asked, “Why don’t y’all love Mary more?”

Is that true? Do we not love Mary enough?

Most Catholics would agree with her. As you probably know, Mary plays a more central role in Catholicism than in our Protestant tradition. And listen: I’m a convinced Protestant. I do believe, sincerely but with respect, that Catholics go too far in the way they honor or venerate Mary… I believe that if we are reading scripture faithfully, then we will see that the Bible has a way bringing Mary back down to earth—alongside the rest of us sinful disciples of Jesus. 

Here are a few examples: In verse 47, Mary says that she rejoices in “God my Savior.” If she were without sin, as most Catholics believe, she wouldn’t need a Savior. 

But later in Luke’s gospel, a woman in the crowd sees Jesus and shouts out, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!”1 And Jesus corrects that woman and says, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

Indeed, in another place in the gospels, Jesus is told, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, desiring to see you.” But [Jesus] answered them, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.”2

To be sure, Jesus isn’t disparaging Mary; not at all. But he is saying that Mary enjoys no special relationship with her son that we ourselves can’t also enjoy; he’s saying that we can be like Mary, too—if only we’ll believe and obey the word of God—including what God’s Word says about Jesus, our Savior and Lord, and his gospel. 

Having said all that, that Catholic woman I mentioned earlier—who did end up joining our church, by the way—she was probably onto something: we probably should love Mary more! Because she is a remarkable role model of genuine Christian faith!

And this is the theme of today’s sermon: I want us to consider some important ways that we are like Mary—or at we should be—if we are authentic disciples of Jesus Christ. What can we learn from Mary about our faith?

First: we learn from Mary that faith will often be very difficult. 

Look at verse 38: after the angel Gabriel tells Mary that she’s going to conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit and give birth to the God’s Son Jesus, Mary courageously responds with some of the most beautiful words ever spoken: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” 

Let us hear now the next sentence of that verse: “And the angel departed from her.”

And the angel departed from her

Mary, undoubtedly, has dozens of questions at this point: “Is this really happening to me? Am I dreaming? Am I hallucinating? How will I tell Joseph? When should I tell Joseph? Will Joseph believe me? Will he still marry me? What will our families think? What will our friends think? How am I supposed be the mother to God’s own Son—what an awesome responsibility! Am I smart enough? Am I wise enough? Am I up to the challenge?”

Mary could not google the answers to any of these questions. And even if smartphones existed in the first century, Gabriel doesn’t seem like the type of angel who would say, “Just message me if you have any further questions.” He is not Aladdin, and Mary does not have a lamp by which she can summon him whenever she wants. Gabriel has left Mary alone to face a frightening, uncertain future all by herself, at least at first—without the benefit of any further angelic appearances. 

Remember: even the angels who visit the shepherds on Christmas night don’t show up at the manger. The shepherds report that event to Mary and Joseph—secondhand.

All that to say, in verse 38, Mary has submitted herself to God’s will, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t scared. Being brave doesn’t mean you’re not also terrified. And being faithful to Christ doesn’t mean the absence of any doubts.

Yet in spite of Mary’s fear and doubt, look at what she does in verse 39: Mary “went with haste into the hill country to a town in Judah,” where Elizabeth and Zechariah lived. 

And this brings us to our second point—the second truth about Christian faith that Mary teaches us: Genuine Christian faith is a decision, not a feeling.3 In other words, Mary decides to act on her faith… even though, emotionally, she was having a difficult time. She decides to act, in spite of any fear and doubt. As pastor Chuck Swindoll says, “Mary responded, ‘May it be done to me according to your word,’ not ‘May it be done to me because I have a peace about it’… She didn’t wait for her conflicted emotions to settle down. She didn’t ask how God would work out all the details before submitting to Him. She didn’t ask for time to think it over. She made a decision to trust in the Lord’s power and goodness despite the inevitable hardship that lie ahead.”4

Speaking of “inevitable hardship,” think of the journey of the Wise Men, or the magi, in Matthew chapter 2. They made a decision to take that journey based on faith. Most Bible scholars believe that they hailed from the region that used to be Babylon, which is present day Iraq. If so, this means that they traveled about 700 miles west from the Persian Gulf region to Bethlehem because they believed—they couldn’t be sure, but they believed by faith—that a new king, the Messiah, was born in Israel. The star led them as far as Jerusalem… Once they got there they needed help traveling a little ways south to Bethlehem. So they consulted with Bible scholars in the capital, in Jerusalem, who told them that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem.

But here’s the thing: the magi traveled from Jerusalem to Bethlehem by themselves, on their own… Why didn’t anyone else go with them? Especially these very Bible scholars that they consulted in Jerusalem!

It was not a secret, after all, why the magi turned up in Jerusalem. Everyone knew that they had come seeking the Messiah—Matthew tells us that everyone in Jerusalem was talking about it.

Do you get the picture: Whereas these magi—these Gentiles, these pagans, these outsiders to the faith of Israel—traveled 700 miles west from the Persian Gulf to Judea for the sake of Christ, these “insiders”—the so-called “Bible believers”—were unwilling to travel less than seven miles south to Bethlehem to see Christ! Shouldn’t they have been the first ones to go down to Bethlehem to see whether the magi’s word’s about the Messiah were true? How is it possible that they would stay home? How is it possible that nothing in their lives would change or be different in response to the birth of the newborn king?

Of course, when we consider our own lives, do we really have to wonder? We may believe it up here, but this belief doesn’t penetrate down here, in our hearts, and live itself out in action.

Like I said, faith is a decision, not a feeling. With that in mind, what would you say is our church’s biggest, most conspicuous failure to live out our faith? How do we, unlike Mary, decide to act on fear, rather than faith? 

I’m tempted to say, first, by failing to tithe—to trust the Lord enough to give at least 10 percent of our income to church—and, second, our failure to witness. And some of y’all might be thinking, “Here Brent goes again, talking about witnessing, talking about tithing… stepping on our toes.” But I promise I’m not. 

Because I’m not going to talk about either of those things… Because our failure to witness and our failure to trust Jesus with our finances—both of which are big problems in our church—but those are symptoms of a deeper problem… And I assure you, this problem affects me as much as it affects you.

I’m talking about our failure to live our lives without worry, without anxiety, without fear.

Are you good at that, or is it just me who struggles?

Jesus tells us, for example, not be anxious about anything… He tells us our Father cares about us so much that he has numbered every hair of our heads…5 He tells us that our Father cares about even the sparrow, the least significant bird, so much that not even a sparrow can fall to the ground apart from his will—and that we are much more valuable to the Father than that!6 He tells us that if only we will put the things of God first in our lives—that we’ll “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness”—then all these other, lesser things which cause us so much stress and worry and anxiety… that our Father will take care of those needs.7

And we know that Jesus is telling the truth—at least up in our heads we know he is—but don’t we often show through our actions that we don’t believe him?… And maybe you’re tempted to say, “Pastor Brent, this isn’t a good example. You’ve just told us, after all, that ‘faith is a decision, not a feeling.’ But worry, or anxiety, or fear is a feeling over which I have no control. It’s just the way I am! It just happens to me! I don’t decide to worry… and I can’t decide not to worry!”

If that’s what you’re thinking, here’s my response: Yes, while it’s true you can’t decide to worry or not… you can decide to follow Mary’s example and fight against fear, against worry, against anxiety in your life. 

I’m reminded of something that Martin Luther said 500 years ago about the sin of lust, which also applies to being anxious or worrying or being afraid. Luther said, “You cannot keep birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.” 

In other words, while we may not be able to control the initial feeling of fear, we can decide to do things to prevent fear from “building a nest in our hair.” 

And what can we do? The same thing that we see Mary doing in today’s scripture…

Instead of wallowing in fear—and giving in to the anxiety and worry that Mary will naturally experience when she answers God’s call—Point Number Three… Mary fought against fear by seeking Christian fellowship. That’s why she went with haste—70 miles south to the Judean hill country—to see her cousin Elizabeth. Because she knows that her cousin—who has now become her sister in Christ—she knows that Elizabeth will give her the encouragement she needs to handle this difficult trial she’s going through.

Likewise, if we want to fight fear in our lives, like Mary, we can decide to be with our brothers and sisters in Christ—gathering with them every week in worship on Sundays, in Sunday school, by being part of a small group. It’s not for nothing that Jesus promises that where “two or three are gathered together in his name,”8 he will be with us in a special way. We experience Christ when we gather together. We experience Christ, for example, when we break the bread and receive the cup of the Lord’s Supper together.

Which brings us to the Point Number Four: Mary fought against fear by worshiping. Notice verse 46 and 47: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…”

Worshiping is nothing other than magnifying the Lord. Now, usually, when we magnify something, we make it larger than it is—like looking at amoebas under a microscope. I’m convinced that cameras “magnify” me by about about 15 pounds! That’s what I think when I see myself in a picture or in a video! But “magnifying” the Lord isn’t a matter of making something small appear bigger. On the contrary! We “magnify” the Lord through worship because in our normal, everyday life, we tend to shrink God down to our size… or smaller. Our problems somehow become larger than the One who is sovereign over all of our problems! 

Worship tends to put things back into perspective. Because God is literally the only “thing”—not that he’s a “thing,” but you know what I mean—God is the only thing in our lives that we can magnify that still won’t be as big or as good as he actually is! Does that make sense?We can never magnify God too much! We can easily magnify ourselves too much. We do that all the time! But we can’t magnify God too much! That’s why John the Baptist famously says of Jesus in John 3:30, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” 

For our own good—to fight against fear—we must make God larger… and make ourselves smaller. Worship, if we’re doing it well, enables us to do that!

So “Magnify the Lord!” He’s bigger than any problems you’re facing in your family, with your kids, with your husband or wife. “Magnify the Lord!” He’s bigger than that scary diagnosis you received, or that disease you’re dealing with, or that surgery you’re facing. “Magnify the Lord!” He’s bigger than Covid-19, or any these new variants that continue to spread around the world. “Magnify the Lord!” He’s bigger than any problem you’re facing in your job or at school! “Magnify the Lord!” He’s bigger than any financial crisis you’re dealing with! “Magnify the Lord!” He’s bigger than any sin, any failure, any disappointment. “Magnify the Lord!” He’s bigger than any politician or political problem. “Magnify the Lord!” He’s bigger than any environmental crisis that we face. 

He’s bigger than whatever we’re afraid of. “Magnify the Lord!”

Why do we act like our problems are so large, and the Lord is so small? “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened that it cannot save, or his ear dull that it cannot hear.” Isaiah 59:1. We need to follow Mary’s example and magnify the Lord!

Point Number Five: We can follow Mary’s example to fight against fear and decide to listen to and believe the Word of God. And you may say, “Wait… there’s no mention of the Bible in this passage.” Yes, but… Elizabeth gets filled with the Holy Spirit and does what? She shares with Mary the word of God. Literally, she shares with Mary words that will later become part of this book. I mean, I’m only talking about magnifying the Lord in the first place because we find them in this amazing book!

But not only do we need to listen to and believe God’s Word… Look at Mary’s song, otherwise known as the Magnificat, in verses 46 to 55. Literally everything Mary says here can be cross-referenced to scripture in the Old Testament. Mary, in other words, has learned scripture—even memorized it—so that she can find comfort and reassurance in some of the Bible’s many promises! She may not have a Bible in front of her, but she’s learned and memorized its words!

Needless to say, we can learn and memorize scripture in the exact same way. If it helps Mary to fight against fear, why don’t we think it can help us? 

God wants to speak to you, and reassure you, and comfort you through this, his holy Word. In fact he’s given you about 750 thousand words right here, which he wants to speak into your heart and apply to problems in your life. 

But maybe that’s not enough for you; you want more… Maybe you think, “I want God to speak to me in an audible voice!” To which I say, “Okay, no problem. God will do that!… Just read the Bible out loud.”

But do you see? Faith is a decision, not a feeling, and we fight against fear by making the same decisions Mary made!

Finally, let’s look at verse 49. Mary says, “[H]e who is mighty has done great things for me.”

That’s certainly true of Mary! Think about it: There was surely some irony in the angel’s words in Luke 1:28 when he tells her, “The Lord is with you” Because very soon—probably within a matter of moments—the Holy Spirit came upon Mary and conceived Jesus in her womb. And when that happened, the Lord was with Mary in a way that he had never been with any human being before: the Lord had become, in the most literal way imaginable, a part of Mary! 

Think about it: Up to this point in human history, no human being had ever been closer to God than Mary would be. It’s no exaggeration to say this—but Mary literally had God living within her!

What a gracious privilege God had given her! So by all means, “he who is mighty” had done great things for her.

And yet, soon, in 33 years or so, through the atoning work of Christ on the cross, and the outpouring of his Spirit after his resurrection, this privilege would be shared by all believers in Christ.

And this is my sixth and final point… The most important way we can be like Mary this: If we believe in Christ as our Savior follow him as Lord of our lives, this privilege she enjoyed—of having Christ living within her—becomes our privilege as well! What God did in her and through her in a physical way, he does in and through us in a spiritual way.

In the holiday classic movie A Christmas Story, the nine-year-old protagonist, Ralphie, has finally had enough: he beats up a bully who has been tormenting him and his friends for years. Don’t feel bad, the bully totally deserves it. But Ralphie’s mom finds out that Ralphie is fighting and intervenes to stop it. She arrives in time to see her son pummeling the other boy mercilessly and—worse, from Ralphie’s perspective—his mother overhears him cussing like a sailor as he does so. Ralphie believes he’s going to be in big trouble. His little brother, remember, is worried that Ralphie’s father is going to kill him.

Earlier in the movie, we’ve seen how angry and upset his parents get when Ralphie uses profanity. They punish him by putting a bar of soap in his mouth! Lifebuoy, if memory serves.

In this case, however, Ralphie’s mother is filled with compassion. She takes him home, washes his face, consoles him, and puts him to bed so he can calm down.

At dinner, when his father asks about his day, Ralphie is shocked when his mother downplays the fight—and doesn’t mention the cussing at all.

In a voiceover, the grown-up Ralphie, the narrator of the movie, says, “I slowly began to realize I was not about to be destroyed. From then on things were different between me and my mother.”

From then on things were different… From then on Ralphie realized that his mother was not going to destroy him. From then on he knew that compassion, mercy, and grace were going to win out over judgment, wrath, and death. From then on he knew that his mother was on his side. From then on he knew that nothing he could do would separate him from this amazing love. 

Our heavenly Father loves us like that—except even more so!

Remember the parable that Jesus would later tell in this very gospel, the gospel of Luke?9 A younger son has left home, squandered his father’s property, threatened his family’s financial security, told his father, in so many words, that he wished he were dead. And now this same young man is starving in a faraway country. Out of desperation, he goes home. He can’t predict what his father will do to him. But he knows what he deserves. The best he can hope for is that his father will at least have pity on him and let him live like a slave. 

But the unimaginable happens: he returns home and experiences his father’s love, mercy, and compassion. What must this son have thought? Probably something like this:

“I slowly began to realize, I was not about to be destroyed. From then on things were different between me and my father.”

And so it is with us. Our God refused to let sin separate us from him for eternity. He refused to let us “get what we deserved” because of our sins. He refused to let us suffer hell without intervening to save us. He loved us too much

And God knew before the foundation of the world the price he would pay to save us—that God himself would come into the world in Christ and die on a cross. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”10

The Bible says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”11

nd if we receive Christ as our Savior, the Bible says we, like Mary, will have Jesus Christ living within us—see Colossians 1:27—through the Holy Spirit, which God gives to everyone who believes.

Finally, what was true for Mary is true for us: Through us, other people will get to see and know Jesus Christ!

“He who is mighty has done great things for me!” If you’ve received this gift of eternal life, say that with me: “He who is mighty has done great things for me!” 

Indeed he has!


  1. Luke 11:27-28
  2. Luke 8:20-21
  3. This point comes by way of Charles Swindoll in Swindoll’s Living Insights: Luke (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2017), 
  4.  Ibid.
  5.  Luke 12:7
  6. Matthew 10:29-31
  7. Matthew 6:33
  8. Matthew 18:20
  9. See Luke 15:11-32.
  10. Romans 5:8 ESV
  11. Romans 8:1

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