Three faithful responses to our coming King

Text: Luke 1:39-56

As of today, we have one week left until Christmas. Christmas is a season with a lot of built in anticipation. That’s entirely normal. Children anticipate gifts. People anticipate Christmas parties. A lot of people anticipate time off from work or school to spend with their families or friends over the holidays.

The city goes all out to prepare for Christmas. There’s the tree at Rockefeller Center. Restaurants and department stores put in a lot of effort to encourage people to walk through their doors this month. I read about one restaurant in Gramercy Park that spends $60,000 every year to decorate and prepare the restaurant for the season.

I think that holiday anticipation is exciting for us here at BCBC, for two reasons. First, it can help us think about and meditate on Jesus. And second, because of all the holiday excitement around us, we are able to participate in a lot of good outreach, evangelism, and ministry in our community.

Sometimes, though, the anticipation for the holidays is not always positive. Some people have to live with difficult memories of the holidays. They’ve lost a parent or friend or a child or a husband or wife. For them the holiday season brings memory of grief rather than anticipation of happiness.

For others, the holiday season brings anxiety about financial resources. Some people have lost jobs or for those who do have jobs, they’re making it from paycheck to paycheck, and the prospect of a retail holiday is leaving them with fears: how will I get by.

And then for others, they get so carried away with the busyness of the season—coordinating parties, buying presents, putting up decorations, making it to church meetings, entertaining family and friends, making lists, checking them twice, and on and on and on—they get so carried away in the endless list of details that they forget the point of the season. The details of the season overshadow celebrating the birth of Immanuel—God with us.

So we have one week left until Christmas. You may still have some shopping to do, but today, let me ask you to slow down for a second and meditate on the fact that God is about to show up.

Historically, Christians have celebrated two major holidays in the course of a year: Christmas in the winter, and Easter in the spring. And in the weeks preceding those holidays, they would take time to reflect and to prepare their hearts. They called the season of reflection before Christmas, Advent. It’s a Latin word that simply means an arrival.

In our text, we meet Mary and Elizabeth. When we meet them, they have both just received big announcements. They’re both with child, they’re both pregnant. Mary is a young woman, but she had never been with a man. Elizabeth was, as it reads in verse 7, “advanced in years,” and past the age of childbearing.

Needless to say, they were both anticipating pretty major events in their own lives. They were both about to have children. But more than that, they were anticipating the birth of the long promised messiah. The One who would reign over Israel and whose kingdom would have no end.

So in the weeks before Christmas, we are preparing to celebrate the same event. The Birth of Jesus—the Incarnation. But together with Christians through the generations, we should also take time to remember that we’re not only looking back to the first Christmas, we’re also looking ahead. Because Jesus also promised us that he’s coming back. And he will come back.

So today, we are going to look at three faithful responses to our coming king. First, we will see that the king is on his way. Second, we will study the three responses in our passage: first of Elizabeth, then of Mary, and then of little unborn John the Baptist. Then third, we’ll try to distill a few characteristics of a faithful response to our coming King

1. The King is on his way

The Incarnation

So First, let’s take a look at the fact that our Lord is on his way. In our text, Mary and Elizabeth were anticipating Jesus’ first advent. They were anticipating the fact that Jesus was about to be born. They knew this child was significant, God had revealed it to them both. Just a few verses before our reading today, an angel—Gabriel—revealed to Mary that she was going to be the Mother of a baby. The angel said “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” The news had been divinely revealed to Mary by an angel.

The news was also revealed to Elizabeth as well. When Mary arrived, it said Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She said, “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?” There is no evidence in the text that says she would have known by any other means that Mary was pregnant, and that the child was going to be her Lord.

They were anticipating the incarnation. That word means “in flesh.” What it means is that the eternal Son of God, who holds the universe together, who exists in eternal fellowship with the Father and the Holy Spirit, who was active in the creation of the world was made flesh, or incarnated as a little Baby still in Mary. As Charles Wesley wrote in the Christmas Carol “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; Hail th’incarnate Deity, Pleased as man, with men to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel.

The significance of the incarnation is that in one person, Jesus Christ, perfect and Holy God was united to perfect and holy humanity. Jesus Christ was the eternal God, but now he was also one of us. Now, he could stand in our place. Now he could take on himself the penalty for our sin, and grant to us his righteousness. Now he could be our savior, because as God, he was perfect and Holy, and as human, he could act for our benefit. Or as Charles Wesley put in in the carol, “Hail the heav’nly Prince of Peace! Hail the Sun of Righteousness! Light and life to all He brings, Ris’n with healing in His wings. Mild He lays His glory by, Born that man no more may die. Born to raise the sons of earth, Born to give them second birth.”

The Second Coming

This is the event Mary and Elizabeth were anticipating. And with them, we remember that event, and will celebrate it next week. But a moment ago, I told you that Christians have historically used the weeks before Christmas not only to remember, but to look forward to the second coming of Christ. The Bible teaches in Acts 1, that Jesus would come back in the same way he left when he ascended to heaven.

This event, the return of Christ, is the believer’s great hope. It’s our great comfort. There are three things the Lord will do when he returns. He will judge the world, he will right all wrongs, and he will vindicate believers.

He’s Coming back to Judge the World

First, he’s coming back to judge the world. Acts 10 says Jesus commanded us to teach that he will judge both the living and the dead. In 2Timothy 4, Paul encourages Timothy to preach because Jesus Christ is coming back to Judge the living and the dead. Peter writes in 1 Peter 4 that everyone will give an account to Jesus who will judge the living and the dead.

The point is that on the last day, it may be today, or it may be another day, Jesus Christ will come back into the world, and his purpose will be to judge it. He will judge everyone according to their lives. If they have entrusted their lives to Jesus by faith, Jesus will find a record of repentance and faith. He will find a record of people who have humbled themselves and turned away from their sin. On the other hand, for those who have not placed their faith in Christ, Jesus will find a record of sin and guilt and brokenness. He will find the life of a person who has tried to justify themselves and held on to their sin.

Jesus Christ is coming back to judge the world. And with that in mind, Christians have observed this season by examining themselves and praying for help to walk in repentance and faith. Now that is everyday reality for Christians, but we dedicate a part of the weeks before Christmas to meditate on the hope that we have in Jesus Christ through repentance and faith.

He’s Coming Back to right all wrongs

Second, Jesus is coming back to put right all wrongs. He’s going to put right all wrongs. Jesus says in John 16, “You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy…. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”

John writes in Revelation 21, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

We may have sorrow now, but when Jesus comes back all of those who are found united to Jesus Christ, will move from sorrow to joy.

He’s coming back to vindicate believers

Third, Jesus is coming back to vindicate his people. Vindicate just means to clear of blame or suspicion, or to prove to be right. In Matthew 16:27, Jesus says “For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.” This doesn’t mean that we are saved by doing good works. What it means is that when Jesus comes back and judges the world, he will reward all those who turned to follow him. The believers will be proved right in the end. They will be brought with him into his kingdom.

When Jesus Comes back, he will judge the world, he will right all wrongs and he will vindicate believers.

2. Three Responses

In the second place, I want to observe three responses to the announcement of the upcoming birth of Jesus Christ. In our text we read that Mary rose quickly and went to a town in the hill country to visit her relative Elizabeth. We’ll look first at Elizabeth’s response to the mother of her coming King.

Elizabeth’s Response

When Elizabeth heard the greeting. When Elizabeth heard the greeting, the text says she was filled with the Holy Spirit and she cried out. Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. God was especially and uniquely present here. Elizabeth adopted an attitude of worship toward God when she saw Mary. She also cried out with a loud voice. This was a cry of joy. As soon as she sees Mary she is filled with the Holy Spirit and cries out with a loud voice. She is happy for Mary and she just can’t hold it in.

Blessed are you among women. Elizabeth begins by acknowledging that Mary is blessed. Elizabeth was aware of the miracle God had worked in herself, to allow her to be pregnant at her age. She was also aware that Mary had an even greater miracle. God called Mary “favored one” and Elizabeth celebrated that honor with Mary. She joined into Mary’s happiness, and celebrated with her.

And blessed is the fruit of your womb! Elizabeth points out that this is the reason that Mary is blessed. She was carrying in her the Messiah who would save the world. Even greater than that, though, she was carrying in her the one who would save her from her sins. Her child, Jesus, would justify the salvation and faith that Mary had experienced. What a great blessing that is. And that is a blessing we all have access to though faith in Jesus Christ.

And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? Elizabeth’s reaction to the arrival of Mary and Jesus was a reaction of humility. Elizabeth humbled herself. Even though she was the recipient of a miracle herself, Elizabeth recognizes that she is a sinner and without hope apart from Jesus Christ. So she recognizes that this visit from the mother of her Lord was a grace.

We too, when we hear the word of God—or when we are moved to pray, or when we gather for worship—we should ask with Elizabeth, “why is it granted to me that… My Lord should come to me?”

And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord. God’s promises are always true, but it is by faith that we receive the benefits of them. It is by faith that God’s promises work in our hearts to save us. Elizabeth’s response here, commends Mary for her faith.

This is a lesson to us that we should observe and commend faith and faithfulness in each other. Elizabeth noticed and encouraged Mary for her faith in God’s promise, and we could be a great encouragement to one another that way.

Mary’s Response

Next, let’s look at Mary’s Response.

My soul magnifies the Lord. Mary begins with worship right from the start. She sings out in praise, it says, from the soul. If you can see in your bible, this part of the text is set like a poem. That’s because it’s a song. Mary sings out a song of praise. My soul magnifies the Lord.

One thing that is worth pointing out here is that Mary’s song is a parallel to the song Hannah Sings in 1 Samuel 2, on the birth of Samuel. It’s not a direct quote, but the parallels are there. She praises God. She acknowledges the good God has done for her. Then she remembers and praises the character of God. One thing this should teach us is that Mary was familiar with her Bible. The song she sang in praise of God took the shape of a song she would have known because she loved her Bible.

If you want to be quick to praise God, let me encourage you to spend time in your Bible every day. Become familiar with its prayers and songs.  Let it give you language to inform your own prayers. If you do, your devotional and spiritual life will be enriched.

He has looked on the humble estate of his servant. Like Elizabeth, Mary humbles herself. She recognizes that she is not uniquely holy, or uniquely positioned on her own merit to receive the blessing of being the mother of her Lord. She praises God’s character for being gracious to her.

The lesson for us is that we should recognize that this is God’s pattern. You may have heard the saying, “God helps those who help themselves.” That’s wrong. No, God helps those who humble themselves. God helps those who recognize they need help. Jesus put it this way in Matthew 9.12, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.”

He who is mighty has done great things for me. Here, Mary praises God for the particular blessing that God has given her. God has called her favored. God has granted that She would be mother of the Lord. God has granted that all generations would call her blessed.

When we go to pray, it is a helpful discipline to remember the ways God has blessed us. And it is a discipline. If we don’t pay attention, it may be easy to overlook God’s blessings in our lives. But if you look, you’ll see. God has given you food today. God has given you air today. God has given you friends to go to church with. God has given you his word today. God is offering you his Son, our Lord, today.

His mercy is for those who fear him. Mary rehearses God’s character. He has mercy on those who fear him. He is strong, for the good of those who call on him, but against the proud. Those who abuse power and position, he pulls them down. But he lifts up those who humble themselves. He feeds the hungry. He sends away those who flaunt their wealth. For generations, he has been faithful to help his people.

John’s Response

And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. It’s easy to miss this response to Jesus’ presence, but I don’t want to pass it by. The last response to Jesus in our passage is by John the Baptist. John the Baptist at this point was an unborn infant in Elizabeth’s womb, but I think this is a very important response to Jesus. We have to pay attention to it.

John the Baptist leaped for joy. It’s impossible to know, and it’s not a good idea to speculate about the exact nature of John’s reaction here. But we do know a few things. 1) We know the Holy Spirit moved. 2) We know that John leaped. 3) We know that the cause of the leap was joy. John experienced joy at the presence of Mary and Jesus, and he experienced that joy by the help of the Holy Spirit.

If you think that the good news about Jesus Christ is too complicated, or if you think the gospel is only for really good Christians, you need to know that with the help of the Holy Spirit an unborn Baby is able to greet Jesus with joy.

Some of you teach Sunday school. Maybe some of you are or will be parents soon. Never underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit applying the Word of God. Your preschool age children—your infant children, even your unborn children—with God’s help and your prayers and your teaching, can receive God’s word with Joy.

If unborn John the Baptist can greet Jesus with joy, so can you, and so can your children.

3. Characteristics of a faithful response to Jesus

So far, we’ve seen that the king is on his way, and we’ve observe three faithful responses to Jesus. Now, let’s apply four characteristics of a faithful response to Jesus.

Humility

The first characteristic of a faithful response to Jesus is humility. Both Mary and Elizabeth recognized that, in themselves, they could not have earned the Lord’s favor. Elizabeth asks “Who am I that you should come to me?” The understood answer to that question is “I’m a sinner. I’ve broken God’s law. I don’t deserve it.”

That’s the truth for all of us. We are sinners and law-breakers and without Jesus, we have no hope and no ground for receiving the blessings that God gives us. If you’re not a Christian, that means if you are not following after Christ in faith, that means that what you deserve is God’s condemnation. The way to receive God’s help here, is simply to recognize you need it. Stop trying to rely on your own strength, or your own discipline, or your own wisdom, or your own intelligence to bring you into right standing with God. Just call on him for help.

And if you are a Christian, for you this means that you need to realize that you always have that same need for God’s help. You can’t mortify sin without the help of the Holy Spirit. You can’t please the Lord with your good works without the help of the Holy Spirit. When I say you can’t, I don’t mean in the sense that it’s a rule. What I mean is that the ability to do these things is not inherent in you. If you are a Christian, do keep on trying to mortify sin, and practice spiritual disciplines, and pursue Good works, but you have to realize that the energy—the effectiveness—to accomplish those things comes from God. So call on him for help. He will help you. I need to remember this too. Rely on him. Call on him for help and he will help you.

Humility is the first characteristic of a faithful response to Jesus.

Joy

The second characteristic of a faithful response to Jesus is joy. Elizabeth is so joyful that she shouts out to Mary. Mary is so joyful that she magnifies the Lord from her soul. John is so joyful that he leaps in Elizabeth’s womb. When you see Jesus, the right kind of response is to be joyful. Jesus sets you free. He sets you free from sin. He rescues you from death. Joy is the right response.

Now that’s not always the same thing as happy. They’re related. But happiness is simple. Sometimes if the circumstances are good, I’m happy. If the circumstances are difficult I’m either sad or angry or something else. Joy can be complex. Joy involves a settled confidence in something. Joy involves realizing that God is in control and that his word is true, and good, and beautiful. You can be sad and joyful at the same time. In 2 Corinthians 6, Paul commends himself and his coworkers to the churches as “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.”

Joy is the second characteristic of a faithful response to Jesus.

Praise

The third characteristic of a faithful response to Jesus is praise. In Elizabeth’s greeting, she begins by pointing out the circumstances in which Mary has been blessed by God. She lists it out. Blessed are you, blessed is the fruit of your womb. She praises God for one of his mighty works in their lives. Mary does the same thing in a more extended way. She rehearses her joy in God, she recalls God’s work in her life, and then she lists the ways she can praise God’s character.

As members or friends of BCBC, we have a lot to praise God for. He has demonstrated his faithfulness to Mok See and See Mo over more than 40 years here. This building we’re in, the people sitting around you, are testimonies to God’s faithfulness. We have also regularly heard God’s word for years here at BCBC, and the more we know God’s character the more we have to praise him for.

Praise is the third characteristic of a faithful response to Jesus.

Faith

The last characteristic of a faithful response to Jesus is faith. Elizabeth clearly acknowledges Mary’s faith. Mary’s faith is a great example to all of us. She was a person in humble conditions. She was a broken and sinful person, just like we all are. But when God gave her a huge announcement that must have brought up so many questions, she responded in faith. She said to the angel, “Let it be to me as you have said.”

Whether you’re a Christian or not here today, you have to know that Jesus Christ is on his way back. He will come again soon, and he will be coming to judge the world. And as we meditate on that this week, let me ask you to respond in faith. That doesn’t mean a blind leap. But it does mean that you trust God. Trust him to forgive your sins. Trust him to deliver you from the evil one. Trust him to lead you away from temptation, Trust him to give you what you need for today, and trust him that his kingdom will come soon. Call on him and trust him today.

Faith is the fourth characteristic of a faithful response to Jesus.

Conclusion

The Christmas season brings with it a lot of anticipation and a lot of emotions good and bad. It’s only one week until Christmas. That’s not much time. But it is seven days. Seven days to meditate on the coming of Jesus into the world. Seven days to consider that he will come again. Let me encourage you to use that time. Call on Jesus today. Don’t wait. You can have absolute assurance that the Lord forgives all who repent and call on him. You can have absolute assurance that God’s promises apply to you. Call on him today, and he will help you.



Date: 18 December 2016
Text: Luke 1:39-56
Title: Three faithful responses to our Coming King
Location: Brooklyn Chinese Baptist Church, English Service
Series: n/a


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