Blessed Are Those Who Believe
Let’s get into the Word. Okay, Luke chapter 1. I’m hoping that last week’s review of where we have been in Luke helped prime the pump for you to get ready for moving ahead, and that’s what we’re going to do today, continuing to move forward in Luke chapter 1. So, you can locate Luke 1:39. We’re going to continue through this fantastic first chapter that introduces us to really the most important event that has ever happened in the history of the world or ever will happen, and that is the incarnation of the Son of God, the coming of the God-Man, Jesus Christ, through the Virgin Mary. We’re going to be looking at Luke 1:39 to 45. It’s a meeting—a quiet private meeting in a house in the hill country of Judea between Elizabeth and Mary.
Today marks the 70th anniversary of the atomic bomb that the United States dropped on Nagasaki, Japan. The dreadful day was August 9, 1945, and three days earlier, you remember, August 6, 1945, the first atomic bomb fell on Hiroshima. The immediate devastation that those bombs wrought was immense. It was a combined death toll of 130,000 just instantaneously. Not to mention all the people who were affected by radiation and all those kinds of things later on, but billions of dollars in damage. Those cities were destroyed, reduced to rubble. Obviously, it was a major impact. Emperor Hirohito capitulated; that ended it for him. He submitted to unconditional surrender less than a week later, and that ended a brutal war with the Japanese. It brought to a close World War II. Absolutely tragic, very, very sad, and sobering, sobering. And it was sobering in this sense because what we commemorate today, what we remember 70 years ago, was a watershed event, wasn’t it? There’s no going back once that happens.
We’re now in the Atomic Age, and we’re actually very concerned about what’s going on in Iran today, right? Nuclear deals with Iran, letting them continue to build and build. They’re not using that for any good purpose. We’re concerned about that. We’ve crossed into a different age, an age where everything is different. That’s a sobering reality and it’s affected foreign policy, it’s affected the way we think about the world, it’s affected different fears, it affected everything. This generation, our generation, has lived through its own watershed, point-of-no-return kind of events as well. We talk about a pre-9-11 and post-9-11 world. If you did any traveling before 9-11 and after 9-11, there’s a total difference, right? Everything’s different. We think about even something that’s not so insidious and evil and scary and frightening. We think about even things like the introduction of the Internet to the world. No going back now, right? Not unless there’s a massive worldwide EMP that shuts down every bit of technology that we have. But there’s no going back. You think about the advent of the smart phone, and now you can’t think of doing anything differently.
You know the birth of Jesus Christ is like that. But a hundred times, a thousand times, magnitudes of exponentials greater than any of these watershed events. It affected everything, and once he came, once he entered into the world, there was no going back. Unquestionably, that was the single most significant event that has changed the world. The impact of his birth, his life, his death, his resurrection—utterly immeasurable. I mean, how do you trace all those effects out? Only God knows it. No one bridged a greater gap than Jesus did, crossing an infinite divide separating man from God. He brought the creature back to his Creator. And to do that, Jesus descended deeper than all human depravity. He went deeper than every single human sin imaginable, and He lifted his people up. He raised them to ascend with Him to the very heavens to be in the very presence of God Himself. Jesus is without equal in what He achieved. He satisfied the righteous demands of God, He propitiated the wrath of God, He fulfilled every purpose of God, the end and the means all the way through. And because of that, for His people, Jesus has been the cause of all rejoicing. He’s been the cause of all praise, all worship. He’s inspired our sincerest praise, our purest worship, because He’s brought us to God.
Surprisingly, as we read the story, the narratives here in Luke Chapter 1, the life of Jesus, the entry into the world—everything started rather small. You might think of something as monumental as the incarnation of the Son of God, it should come with flare, it should come with pomp, massive branding, massive promotion. And in a sense it did. John the Baptist came before Him, but he was not dressed, not conducting himself, comporting himself like we might expect. He was dressed in camel skins, he was a wild man, a prophet, calling people to repentance. He was not at all what we’d expect. We’ve seen at the start of Luke’s gospel two private revelations. The angel Gabriel coming—one revelation—coming to a country priest while he was alone, while he was by himself in the sanctuary of the temple. And he was a man who was subsequently silenced for faltering in his faith—not the way you’d start to announce it, normally, right, by silencing your mouthpiece? The other revelation from Gabriel came to a young virgin betrothed to a young man. Yeah, an angel delivered the news, sure, and that’s pretty significant, but no one but these two people saw the angel come or go. No one heard his words but these two people. God was keeping things quiet for now, somewhat hidden. The way this world-changing gospel begins, it hardly seems to match the magnitude of its effect. You definitely wouldn’t expect the story to start this way. God delights in that, though, doesn’t He? He delights in subverting our expectations and turning things around. We rejoice in the way He does it. We see His wisdom all the way through.
We now come to a third narrative, a story about two women and the private joys that these two women shared as recipients of divine grace. We also see the silent testimony of an unborn baby. We see the divine testimony of assurance for all who believe. Let’s take a look at it there in Luke 1:39. It says,
In those days 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. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”
This meeting between Mary and Elizabeth begins the third narrative in Luke’s Gospel. The first one was Zechariah getting the news about the birth of John from the angel Gabriel. The second one was Mary getting the news from angel Gabriel about the birth of Jesus Christ. This is the third narrative, and this narrative in Luke’s Gospel is going to close out the chapter. We’ll go all the way through this to verse 80. The whole scene takes place from here to the end of the chapter at the house of Zechariah and Elizabeth. As I said, it starts with this meeting, and then ends with the birth of John the Baptist, the song of his father, and John’s early growth. When we last saw this older couple in Luke 1:23 to 25, the two of them had conceived, hadn’t they, bringing joy into their life. Elizabeth was keeping herself hidden from public view, while Zechariah was pondering what had happened in the temple, pondering it silently. As we said, he was silenced because of his unbelief, and you can imagine after arriving home, all those quiet hours had only amplified the accusations of his conscience. You can bet he struggled with regret, confessing his sin to the Lord. He sought forgiveness for failing to believe. He struggled to communicate with his wife now because of this silence. This divinely imposed silence had hindered his ability to fellowship first with the crowd at the temple. He couldn’t even come out of the temple and pronounce the Aaronic blessing, but then more significantly, more intimately, broken fellowship with his wife, strained fellowship, hindered fellowship, difficulty in speaking, communicating.
But by now, six months into his wife’s pregnancy, that old couple, you know, they had found ways to communicate. People always do. Zechariah had helped Elizabeth to understand what had happened. You know, they’d probably been writing notes back and forth. It wasn’t as easy in those days as they didn’t have scratch paper laying around, but they did have ways of communicating. And Elizabeth, slowly but surely, entered into Zechariah’s joy, learned the revelation for herself, meditating on the meaning, the significance of what Gabriel had revealed to her husband. And as the two of them pondered the Messianic significance of their son, what was coming, what was changing, what was happening as they anticipated the birth of their child, watching the baby grow in Elizabeth’s belly, Mary was making her way to their doorstep. The narrative here starts with Mary’s arrival at the house of Zechariah and Elizabeth. During her visit, Elizabeth and Mary together sing two of the five nativity songs that Luke records in his Gospel—five songs celebrating the significance of the birth of Jesus Christ. They’re divinely inspired verses about the coming Christ, the exalted testimonies of joy, language that God has given them about Messianic fulfillment.
Elizabeth’s song is here in our Scripture. It comes, first, running from verses 42 to 45. Mary’s song comes second. It’s a long one, verses 46 to 55. Then, after Zechariah’s mouth is finally opened in verse 64, we get to read what was pent up in his heart for nine months of silence. That third song is the longest of all them, running from verse 68 to 79. So, now once he speaks, he really starts talking, doesn’t he? Chapter 2—two more songs. The fourth is the song of the angels—one verse, verse 14. And then the fifth song is the song of Simeon at the temple, verses 29 to 32 in Chapter 2. Five songs bursting forth with praise and worship, joy. The impact was starting to be felt. Frankly, there hadn’t been too much to sing about in Israel for quite some time—for many centuries. In fact, for hundreds of years the land had been filled with sin and sadness. It had been filled with disobedience and unbelief. These were very, very dark times in Israel—dark times, sad times, distressing times. But beginning with these two angelic visits, with these two pregnancies, the births of these two sons, everything is about to change. This is a watershed event. Everything is changing; there is no going back after this. And for those who believe, joy is coming into the world. The joy of believing, the joy of satisfaction in God’s truth. The joy of all that He’s revealing. It is impossible to overstate the significance of this, really—this understated, quiet meeting between these two mothers.
On that point, I want you to notice in the section we read, the final line of Elizabeth’s song in verse 45, “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” “Blessed is she who believed.” There in Luke 1:45 is the very first beatitude in all the Gospels. “Beatitude”—you’re probably familiar with that, thinking about the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:3 to 12. That word means supreme happiness, supreme happiness. “Blessed are those who are poor in spirit.” Okay, supreme happiness comes through being poverty stricken in spirit. Supreme happiness also comes to those who mourn? Yes, to those who mourn. Supreme happiness for those who are meek. Supreme happiness for those who are craving righteousness—hungering and thirsting for it. Those are the ones we know so well, but this is the first. This is the very first in all of Scripture and it pronounces blessing—get this—on the one who believes, the one who has faith. “Blessed is she who believed.” Supreme happiness then comes through believing what God has said, believing what God has revealed. The final beatitude in the Gospels is down in John 20:29. You know what it commends? Faith. Once again, faith. In that passage Thomas said to the disciples that he would not believe unless he could put his fingers into the nail prints of Jesus’ hand, put his hand into the side where His side had been pierced by the soldiers—and then Jesus arrived on the scene. Thomas was shattered, right? His doubts completely withered away in an instant, and he exclaimed, “My Lord and my God!” Doubt is gone, but still Jesus chided the doubting Thomas. He didn’t say, “Ah, good job, Thomas, for believing.” He said, “Have you believed because you have seen me only?” Faith that requires sight—it’s not true faith, is it? Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” That’s the final beatitude in the Gospels.
So, the first beatitude in the Gospels is this: “Blessed is she who believed there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” And that points us to put our faith in what God has said, the written word of God. The last beatitude of the Gospels is this: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” And that points us to believe in what has not yet happened. In all that God has promised, both of those verses commend and command faith. That is the nature of genuine faith, after all. Isn’t it characteristic of every true Christian? Christians trust the written Word of God. They believe what they read and they believe what they do not yet see. Peter speaks for all of us when he wrote this: 1 Peter 1:8 to 9, “Though you have not seen him, you love him.” He’s talking to us. He and his own generation saw Jesus Christ, walked with Him. But, blessed are those of us who don’t see Him now. We “believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory.” You know why? Because we’re obtaining the outcome of our faith, the salvation of our souls. That’s us, right? That’s us. Blessed are those who believe because they rejoice with joy that’s inexpressible and filled with glory.
As we get into our outline, there are four points this morning—four blessings we find in believing—and we’re going to learn those four blessings from this meeting here between Mary and Elizabeth. This first beatitude that commends believing does it for a good reason, for a good purpose. It’s blessing for you if you believe. My hope as we move through these four blessings of believing God is that you’ll examine your life for evidence of these blessings in your life. Do you rejoice in these four things we’re going to bring up today, or do you not? If you don’t find evidence in your life of rejoicing in these blessings, or if the evidence is thin, if it’s marginal, then, look, this is an occasion for you to examine yourself, to see where you really are with the Lord. Maybe to examine your priorities, how you live your life. Perhaps repentance is in order. And if so, then it’s a blessed day for you. If you do find evidence of blessing in your life—these four blessings here—if you do rejoice in these things in your life and you pursue them, you know what? You’re going to find further occasion to give thanks and praise to God this morning because of this. This is going to evoke joyful meditation for you. It’s going to evoke worship of our God.
So, let’s get into our outline, okay? First thing, blessing number one – enjoying Christian fellowship. Blessing number one – enjoying Christian fellowship. Do you enjoy Christian fellowship? I do more than anything. When Gabriel told Mary about Elizabeth’s pregnancy, Mary didn’t need much encouragement to run to visit her. In fact, look back at verse 35, middle of the verse. Gabriel said, “The child to be born will be called holy – the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son.” Hint, hint, go see her, you know? “And this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” So, Gabriel’s words here encourage Mary to go find confirmation of this announcement, this pregnancy of Elizabeth. It wasn’t that Mary was doubting, not at all. She was commended throughout for believing, for trusting, for having full, confident faith. She’s not doubting, but seeing her relative Elizabeth, an older woman, formerly barren, way beyond childbearing years – when she sees Elizabeth six months pregnant – she’s showing, right? – Mary’s faith would find strong confirmation, deep confirmation. Mary’s faith will be strengthened, encouraged, vindicated. Her confidence would grow. Not only that, but these two women speaking with one another, sharing with one another, talking about Gabriel’s words together, discussing the meaning, the implications, all of that – that shared testimony of the truth would be such a source of joy and edification that it would serve to mutually strengthen their faith.
Let’s take a look again there at verse 39, “In those days 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.”
A lot going on there, right? No quite sure what kind of preparations a young girl, maybe 14, 15 years old, what she would prepare to do to make this journey and whether her parents were involved or whether they accompanied her, or whatever. The exact time frame is somewhat veiled by the opening phrase, “In those days,” but the language indicates immediacy. The emphasis is on now. She’s in a hurry. She’s not waiting at all. I mean, what else is on her to-do list that she couldn’t set aside? This is a once-in-a-lifetime, once-in-the-world’s-history event. She’s got to get there. So, once she heard what Gabriel said, “Your relative Elizabeth has also conceived and she’s six months pregnant,” there’s no time to waste at all. She’s got to get there before the baby comes. So, she saddles up her little donkey and she gets out of Nazareth, all right? She’s eager to see this older, more mature, wiser relative. It makes sense, doesn’t’ it? It makes sense that the Lord would try to connect these two by his providence.
The two women were intimately connected in a number of ways. In fact, at this moment, there was no human being on earth, other than Elizabeth, who could provide Mary with such comfort, sympathy, empathy, assurance. Not only that, no other person in the world could prepare Mary for the future that she faced. First of all, as we said, Mary and Elizabeth were relatives. The two were related through their mothers, not their fathers. Mary’s father was from the tribe of David, making her from the tribe of Judah. And Elizabeth was the daughter of a priest from the House of Aaron, so she was a Levite. They were probably cousins, maybe second or third cousins. Or possibly Elizabeth may have even been the sister of Mary’s mother, which would make Elizabeth Mary’s aunt. But in any case, whatever the relation was, they were kin, they were family. And in a time like this with something as intimate as pregnancy, being in the company of family would be especially comforting for both women. We understand that.
Second thing, they were both in fact women—did I say that? Women. Women have a special capacity, don’t they, for empathy, for sharing emotion, for verbalizing emotions and feelings? God designed that, and it’s a good thing. It’s something to rejoice in. And let me add to this, they were both pregnant women, with heightened emotion, changing emotion. We get that. But as pregnant women, they shared the special joys and trepidation of pregnancy. On the one hand they had unique pains, unique discomforts, stretching, nausea, weird cravings, all that stuff, you know. On the other hand, they had unique pleasures – the thrill of life growing in them, motherly energies and instincts all coming into motion, kicking into high gear.
Not only are they relatives, not only are they women, pregnant women, but they’re also both, thirdly, partakers of special revelation from Gabriel. There’s something deeply meaningful in all of this – something Biblically meaningful, something prophetically meaningful. Both are partakers in the coming Messianic plan, both are sharers in the miraculous power of God, and these two women are fellowshipping together in all of this. Deep joy. All of it’s coming to pass, unfolding in the most intimate way possible for a woman—in their very wombs. They had time, Elizabeth more than Mary, but they had time to contemplate all of these covenantal promises, Messianic prophecies, restoration prophecies. They had time to contemplate all these things coming to bear on what was happening right now in them. Prophetic fulfillment. And the implications for their nation’s future and their own individual futures as well. I mean all of it was wrapped up in just a mind-blowing joy.
All of this leads to a fourth reason—there was no other person who could’ve been such a comfort, such an appropriate mentor to Mary. Elizabeth, remember, was a woman of wisdom. She was not only older than Mary, but she was the wife of a priest. She’d been married to a priest a long time, growing up in the household of a priest. You understand that a priest back then was like a pastor today. So, she understood the pastoral heart. Elizabeth understood, and she had a shepherding concern for Mary. It’s not something just anybody can understand. There’s a unique calling of a pastor, of a shepherd, of a priest, and Elizabeth got it. Elizabeth was obviously familiar with the Scripture. She understood doctrines, how to apply those doctrines to life. She was a wise woman. She was a mature saint. She dealt with the pain of barrenness, the reproach of barrenness for years and years and years and learned how to process all of that, understanding the good providence of a good God Who loved her, but had withheld children,and reconciling all of that. So, she’d be the perfect mother for John, preparing him for his prophetic role. For the immediate moment, she’d be the perfect discipler, mentor, friend to young Mary. These two, they’d enjoy many long hours together, talking about all the things women enjoy. And by the way, Elizabeth hadn’t been talking much for six months because Zechariah, after all, was deaf and dumb—he was silenced. So, he’s not doing much good with that kind of verbal fellowship.
So, here comes Mary. She started talking, and all of their conversations were laced with the truths they were coming to understand, the wonderful prophet fulfillments they were both part of. So, as a relative, as a pregnant woman, as a partaker of special revelation, and as a godly interpreter, Elizabeth was exactly the right person to confirm the truth of Gabriel’s words. She was someone Mary could confide in, someone Mary could get advice from. And it would start, really, with how Mary should proceed in starting to tell this news. This is no small thing for a virgin betrothed to a man and to all of a sudden fall pregnant. Imagine that. What’s she going to say to Joseph? How is she going to break this to her family, her community? Well, Elizabeth’s there. She’s going to be a huge encouragement to Mary, and Mary was a tremendous encouragement to Elizabeth, too. You know, there was a mutuality in this ministry to one another, in the joyful testimony shared between these two mothers. One old divine and English bishop, Joseph Hall, wrote, “Only the meeting of saints in heaven can parallel the meeting of these two cousins. These two wonders of the world are met under one roof and congratulate their mutual happiness.”
You know, before we move on in our outline, think about that for a moment. We need to share the joy that we have in Jesus Christ with others, don’t we? We need to share that. There’s a joy in telling others about the truth of the Gospel, and a duty as well. Bishop Hall continues; he says, “When we have Christ spiritually conceived in us, we cannot be quiet until we have imparted our joy. Happiness communicated doubles itself.” That’s a great way of saying that, isn’t it? “Happiness communicated doubles itself.” Are you doubling your joy? Are you sharing it with others? What’s your testimony to fellow believers? What’s your testimony to unbelievers who know nothing of real joy, who are just grabbing for fleeting happiness—that’s all they’re doing. They can’t hold on to it. It slips through their fingers; they try to grab for more, and every happiness they try to grab on to takes them further and further down the road of degradation and depravity, discouragement and absolute despair. You know what you have? Life-saving joy. You have a life-saving Gospel to share with them. What are we waiting for? Let’s get busy. You’re not imparting your joy to others. Why not? Is it because you’re not joyful, but distracted by lesser things? Have you gotten into a rut? Disobedient? Listen, let this encourage you. “Happiness communicated doubles itself.” That was the blessing Mary and Elizabeth both enjoyed testifying to one another about the truth and it’s the joy that you’ll find as well when you testify to the truth with others because that’s what you’re here for – to give glory to God.
So, that’s the first blessing – the blessing of Christian fellowship. Second blessing—write this down—blessing number two, fulfilling ministry purpose. Fulfilling ministry purpose. Twice in this short passage, as we read it, you noticed, Luke mentions the baby leaping in Elizabeth’s womb. He first just records the fact of the baby leaping in the womb, and then he records Elizabeth’s explanation of why the baby leaped in her womb. Look at verse 41, “When Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb.” Skip down to verse 44. Elizabeth continues, “For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.” Mary’s greeting was carried through the airwaves of sound and they reached the auditory nerves in Elizabeth’s ears, they traveled down neuro pathways to her brain where they were interpreted and then the proper reaction came out. But Elizabeth wasn’t the only one who heard Mary’s greeting, right? She wasn’t the only one who had auditory nerves. Factor that in when you think about the unborn baby in the womb. Six months pregnant, they baby in her womb also heard the sound of her greeting.
We need to ask two questions about this. First, why is the leaping of a baby in the womb important? Is this just a fascinating neonatal fact, tender and dear to every mother that reads it, but kind of lost on us men? We don’t have babies leaping in our wombs. We don’t have wombs, okay? We don’t enjoy this—women enjoy this. So, what’s the point, what’s the significance? Secondly, how does Elizabeth know what she says here, “The baby in my womb leaped for joy?” Babies moving around in the womb—it’s a normal physical sensation experienced by pregnant women, right? It’s a blessed part of pregnancy to be sure, an indication of the miracle of life growing inside a mother, but is this just Elizabeth expressing a mother’s wishful, somewhat romanticized interpretation of her baby’s movements in the womb, just kind of coinciding with Mary’s greeting, and she’s kind of lining it up? Or is there something more here? Besides, how does she know why the baby leaped in her womb? Why would she know that? It’s not like the baby told her why he jumped, sent a message up to the brain, and gave her his motivations. The baby had no capacity to reveal anything to Elizabeth at all, but the Holy Spirit did. The Holy Spirit had that capacity. He’s the One who revealed the cause of the baby leaping in her womb. Look again at verse 41, “When Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb and,” and the next phrase, “Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit,” and verse 42, “She exclaimed with a loud cry.” The Holy Spirit filled her. It started speaking. Everything that followed from here is prophetic, and it’s finding its origin in God the Spirit, but flowing in and through her in perfect harmony with her thoughts, her emotions. It was Elizabeth who interpreted John’s movements in the womb; it was the Holy Spirit who revealed what we read in verse 44, “The baby in my womb leaped for joy.” Joy. Pretty exciting isn’t it? And it’s absolutely amazing as well. A baby in the womb filled with joy. That’s astounding. So astounding, in fact, that it’s difficult to imagine how an unborn child can be filled with joy. So what’s the point?
What is the point? I mean it’s significant enough to have it recorded in the narrative, to call attention to it twice. Why is the baby jumping around in the womb significant to this narrative? Well, two clues: First of all, the Spirit filled Elizabeth, that’s one clue – the filling of the Spirit. Second, the emotion of joy. Those two clues should point us to something that we’ve already read. Look back at Luke 1:13, “The angel said to him, ‘Don’t be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son and you shall call his name John and,’”—get this—“you will have joy, gladness, and many will rejoice in his birth for he will be great before the Lord. He must not drink wine or strong drink, but he will be”—what?—“Filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb.” There it is. The filling of the Spirit, great joy. You know what’s going on when this baby leaps for joy? This is John’s very first testimony to Jesus Christ. And he testified while still in his mother’s womb. Remarkable. John’s just a human baby. I mean, he’s no Superman, no superhuman, just a baby, just a human.
So, where did John—with all that we see he went through—where did he find the lifelong strength, the power to believe and to testify about Jesus Christ? Where did he find his characteristic boldness to stand against the religious establishment, to rebuke pagan rulers like Herod and Herodias? Luke 1:15, “He was filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb.” That joyful leap in his mother’s womb responding to Mary’s greeting upon entering the house – that was his first opportunity, the first one he had to testify to the true identity, to the true nature of Jesus Christ. It may have been a silent testimony. It may have been just a physical testimony known only to his mother in the moment, but it was significant. It was a testimony, and it signaled the fulfillment of his ministry purpose. This demonstration of the Holy Spirit’s presence right in the beginning has provided strong confidence that he would indeed be present in John’s ministry to the very end. The Holy Spirit’s going to be there. The Holy Spirit’s going to empower him. God chose John to be the forerunner to the Messiah. God chose John to prepare hearts, to conduct baptisms of repentance, to prepare the way of the Lord. He was a leveling influence. John started to fulfill his ministry purpose from the earliest days before exiting his mother’s womb. Why? Because he rejoiced in it. He rejoiced in this. When you read about John the Baptist in the Gospel of John Chapter 1, you can hear the joy he has in testifying about Jesus Christ. In John 1:23 he said, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” That is not a cry of anguish. That’s not pain, that’s not suffering. That is a cry of joy, of excitement. And when he sees Jesus for the first time in his life, John 1:29, he cries out, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” And again in John 1:35, “Behold the Lamb of God.” He’s in awe. He is filled with the Holy Spirit, and he’s apprehended the joy of the message that he preaches.
Listen, do you approach your ministry of sharing the Gospel like that? Is your life marked by the filling of the Spirit so that people around you can tell you’ve been saturated by the deep truths of Scripture? Or have you been satisfied with just getting the big picture? Just skimming along the surface? If that’s you, well, it’s no wonder you’re not evangelizing like you should. It’s no wonder the Good News really isn’t that good to you. No wonder you’re not sharing the Gospel; it doesn’t fill you. It doesn’t thrill your soul and excite you. Listen—from beginning to end, from the womb to the beheading block, John the Baptist was preaching righteousness, preaching repentance, pointing people to the only hope of salvation— the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He wasn’t trying to be a quiet witness, stumbling and mumbling his way through life, passing on a few wise sayings, a few, “Hey, bless you,” comforting advice. He was preaching. He was confronting. He was pointing people to Jesus Christ. His witness was bold. He was courageous. He was unambiguous. No one was unclear about John’s life and John’s message; it started from the womb, and it only ended when they cut off his head. That’s the only way they could silence this bold testimony – cut off his head. What about you? What about me?
I know sometimes I fail in this, don’t you? Look, we need to familiarize ourselves, to reacquaint ourselves with the true joy of this message, with the true preciousness of this Gospel we hold. This treasure hidden in jars of clay, that’s us – jars of clay, privy pots is what this reference is to. We’re not much, but God has seen fit to put His treasure in us and we need to break the jar of clay to let the treasure out. So much joy, so much blessing in fulfilling ministry purpose. That’s what we’re here to do, Christian—we’re here to tell others about Christ.
We’ve seen the testimony of the two mothers, Mary and Elizabeth, the testimony of the unborn John fulfilling his ministry purpose. Let’s consider a third blessing of believing. Blessing number three, recognizing true significance. We might want to say, recognizing true spiritual priority, true spiritual significance—however you want to phrase it. The Holy Spirit revealed His presence in John even from his mother’s womb, and it was the Holy Spirit who empowered John to testify about the coming Messiah, to identify Jesus Christ, to be bold and strong, to stand against all human opposition with utter courage and determination, utter conviction. It’s the Holy Spirit who empowers all true testimony about Jesus Christ, including what we see next. This is really the heart of the passage, verses 41 to 45. This is Elizabeth’s song. This is what the Spirit said through Elizabeth. Starting in verse 41, “And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, [verse 42] and she exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.’”
Basically, we see two things here. First, there’s an acknowledgement of priority, an acknowledgement of spiritual priority. Second, an encouragement in fidelity. The acknowledgment of spiritual priority is there in verses 42 to 44. We know Elizabeth was filled by the Holy Spirit—the text tells us that. The whole song here is prophetic, flowing from the divine mind through the mouth of Elizabeth, but contrary to popular error, prophecy did not bypass the human mind. Divine prophecy was not anything like ecstatic pagan utterances where the demonic spirit literally overtakes the mind, overtakes the personality, overtakes the will, bypasses it and inhabits the human or speaks through the human body, using it like a puppet to propagate its error and its impurity. In fact, we see all the error in the Corinthian church. We see Paul correcting that error, and he talks to the prophets, he gives them instructions on orderly worship. In 1 Corinthians 14:26 to 33, he appeals to the fact that these prophetsare in complete control of their faculties when they are prophesying. If God has given them a prophecy, they don’t need to blurt it out in a fit of ecstasy; they’re fully able to exercise self-control, to wait for one another, letting out each prophecy one by one. Why? So that all may learn and be encouraged. Why? Because, 1 Corinthians 14:32 says, “The Spirit of the prophets are subject to the prophets.” They are in control of their spirit, they’re in control of their mind, they’re in control of their will.
Same way here – Elizabeth here is not speaking, she’s not overtaken and someone speaks through her something that she didn’t plan. She’s in complete control of her faculties. And when the Spirit filled her, when she cried out, the Spirit here is working in harmony with her mind, in harmony with her emotions. She was mentally engaged in what she was saying. And her own knowledge of Biblical truth was in unison with the Holy Spirit’s revelation here. She was emotionally engaged with the joy she was feeling, rejoicing in total harmony with the joy of the Holy Spirit. In that state, filled with the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth recognized and acknowledged the priority of the woman who visited her—this young woman, Mary, the priority of the child in her womb. “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” Elizabeth, along with her husband, Zechariah, had searched the Scriptures, learned more about the identity of the child in her womb, the nature of his ministry. Their son was “to make ready for the Lord, a people prepared” (Luke 1:17). They would have found Malachi’s prophecy, Malachi 3:1, which says, “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me.” Their son was special. Their son was significant. He was going to “turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before Him [the Messiah] in the Spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just.”
They would have found also in Malachi Chapter 4 verses 5 and 6, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers.” Elizabeth researched this. She’d meditated on it for the last six months. She’d know the true identity of her son, the nature of his ministry. He was the forerunner of the Messiah. So, even more than her own pregnancy, even more than the end to her own barrenness and reproach, she is overjoyed not just in that, not just in her special son, but more so in the One coming after her son. She exclaims, she cries out in a loud voice, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” Elizabeth here is the older one. She is the more mature of the two. She’s the more experienced, the more biblically studied. And not only that, she’s been waiting longer for a child. Mary hasn’t had to suffer in barrenness for most of her life. But none of that matters now, none of it. Elizabeth’s joy is in the fruit of Mary’s womb. She’s not looking at herself; she’s looking at Mary. She’s ready, she’s willing, she’s even rejoicing to step out of the way. She’s not gabbing and going on about her own pregnancy, the miracle she’s experienced—she’s joyful, thrilled about the Messiah growing in Mary’s womb. Not only that, she’s humbled by this. She’s humbled that Mary would come. Not only is she willing to put the priority on Mary, but she’s humbled that Mary would come to her. What is this? Verse 43, “Why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Interesting expression in the Greek, and hard to translate into English exactly. Literally, it’s “Whence to me this, how could this happen? How am I allowed this privilege? Who am I? Why am I so favored that the mother of my Lord would come to me?”
I was a significant sacrifice, really, for Mary to come to Elizabeth. Eighty to one hundred miles away that journey was. Very difficult, very rugged terrain. My family and I, last week, went horseback riding in Estes Park, a two-hour ride. That was enough. Rugged terrain, up and down, I thought, “No.” I mean, Mary riding 80 to 100 miles on a horse—not a horse, a little donkey or something. Probably not walking. A long way to go. I used to think, “Man it’d be really cool to be a cowboy.” I don’t think that any more. That’s hard work. She had a very rough journey—rugged terrain, a dangerous journey. Robbers and thieves used to line the roadways looking for targets like Mary, really to take down vulnerable travelers. She appears to have arrived here without incident, and her greeting to Elizabeth elicited this song, this testimony of praise. And rather than being interested in talking about her own child, Elizabeth has recognized a priority on Mary – the priority on the fruit of her womb. Elizabeth marvels that Mary would come all this way to her. She’s dumbfounded and utterly overjoyed at Mary’s arrival. It’s a fitting response of praise and humility in light of the baby that Mary carried in her womb. And it’s a perfect beginning for a three-month visit together. Now we see where John learned the humility that taught him to say, “He must increase and I must”— what?—”decrease,” right? Same attitude existed in his mother. There’s an acknowledgement of priority here. Jesus is greater than John and you, Mary, are more blessed than me. There’s also an encouragement here in fidelity.
Let’s turn that into a fourth point – this encouragement to fidelity. This is the blessing, blessing number four, of believing divine revelation, believing divine revelation. All these testimonies from Mary to Elizabeth, Elizabeth to Mary; from the unborn forerunner, that testimony; from the Holy Spirit—all these merely serve to confirm what had already been spoken by the Lord. What the Lord revealed—the message He sent delivered by the angel Gabriel—that was enough for Mary. She believed. And so Elizabeth speaks one more word here in her song to encourage her along in that fidelity. As we said, the first beatitude in all of Scripture is verse 45, “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” There’s no doubt in Elizabeth’s mind—undergirded and propelled by the filling of the Holy Spirit—there’s no doubt whatsoever that what the Lord said would come to pass. She has unshakeable conviction, absolute certainty, and through Elizabeth God the Spirit commends Mary for believing what the Lord has said. The verb here is absolute. It’s a concrete phrase, “she who believed” – it’s the aorist tense—an emphatic, absolute statement of Mary’s certainty in the faith. Remember Luke’s purpose in writing? We’re going to see this theme emerge again and again in Luke’s Gospel. It’s “so that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught,” Luke 1:4. Luke is showing us here in this teenage girl, confirmed by Elizabeth, the unborn child, and the Holy Spirit Himself, that Mary is steadfast and certain in her faith. She isn’t wavering.
Not only that, but this verse commends Mary in her strength in believing – she’s strong in her faith. Her faith led to an impressive level of spiritual maturity that belied her youthful age. She appeared far older spiritually than she was physically. Mary “believed those things which have been spoken” – perfect tense. She “believed those things the Lord had spoken.” Those things would certainly be fulfilled. The word fulfilled here is a different word than pleroo, the normal word. This one is teleiosis, teleiosis. You know what that word is? “Telos,” “perfection,” “end.” It’s talking about perfection, an end that God intended, an end that He ordained. What the Lord had spoken pointed to an end, a perception, a summing up of all things. God ordained the end, he ordained the completion, the perfection of his plan to restore the entire nation of Israel through this promised Messiah and to do it by spiritual salvation. Mary believed that. She not only believed that—she believed God for the means to accomplish that end, including her – a humble servant willing to do whatever God wanted with her. She believed God for the teleiosis and for every intermediate step along the way, including her own life – all of it was expendable for the purposes of God. Another way to say this:Mary was all in, all in. There is no doubt whatever in her mind; she is fully invested, she’s fully on board. She’s going to see it through to the end.
What is significant for us to see in this? What God has already said, what He has written in the Word—that’s sufficient ground for faith. That’s all we need. No confirmation needed. It’s nice to have confirmation of our faith, to find it strengthened and bolstered. Mary wanted that. She was willing to make that long, arduous, dangerous journey to Elizabeth’s house, but she didn’t seek faith in seeing her cousin Elizabeth pregnant. She already believed what the Lord had spoken. All she needed was the Word. It’s like that little children’s song that teaches kids about the nature of faith, “God said it, I believe it, that’s all that faith demands.” Right? That was Mary’s ,too. The section ends here with Elizabeth in her ninth month of pregnancy, full of child, just about to give birth, and no denying the fact of her pregnancy. What Gabriel had said, bringing the words of God in heaven to people on earth—they certainly came to pass. No doubt. And the world has never been the same. It’s an impactful event that has changed the entire world. It’s changed geography; it’s changed everything. We see here that faith is the reality or the assurance of things hoped for, right? “Faith is the conviction or the certainty of things not seen,” Hebrew 11:1, right? Faith isn’t just wishful thinking. It’s not Soren Kirkergaard’s irrational blind leap into the unknown. Faith is not irrational, it’s not blind. Faith is informed. Faith is trusting in what’s revealed. It’s the most logical, reasonable, rational thing to do. Because faith takes a sovereign, omnipotent, benevolent God at His word. Faith knows that whatever God says is truly going to come to pass. So, Mary believed. She staked her soul on the sufficient testimony of the Lord. “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” That’s us. Right? That’s us. We believe all that the Lord has said will come to perfect completion. We demonstrate our faith in God by living accordingly. Like Mary and Elizabeth, we enjoy Christian fellowship with one another, right?—one of the greatest joys in life.
Like John the Baptist, we strive to fulfill our ministry purpose of pointing others to Christ for salvation from divine wrath, forgiveness of sins, righteousness that comes from God through faith, eternal life in Jesus Christ. That’s what we live for – to fulfill that purpose. Like Elizabeth, we recognize what’s truly significant. We recognize real spiritual priorities, and we live accordingly. We acknowledge and humble ourselves before divine priorities, and we make sure we’re not hindering what God’s doing. We make sure we’re getting on board with His program, His thinking, His ways, living our life according to His Word. And all of this because like Mary, we believe divine revelation. We believe it. Blessed are those that believe because they rejoice with joy that’s inexpressible and filled with glory. Right?
Bow with me for a word of prayer. Father, we thank you once again for Your Word, what You revealed to us in this simple narrative about Mary and Elizabeth rejoicing together in what You did in their wombs, bringing through Elizabeth the forerunner to the Messiah, and bringing through Mary the Messiah Himself, Jesus Christ, Who is our Lord and Savior. We pray that You’d help us to follow the pattern that’s laid out for us here – the pattern of believing faith. That we would be blessed in our believing. Please help us to do that, starting right now, throughout this week, and for the rest of our lives. May we give glory and honor to You, praise and worship to Jesus Christ in Whose name we pray. Amen.