Praise for a Great God
Woodlawn Baptist Church
November 20, 2005
(I borrowed and adapted the following illustration from Rodney Buchanan’s sermon "Mary’s Song."
Read Luke 1:39-56
Hype. I don’t know how much you kept up with its development, but if you followed it at all you know that most of it was only hype. Back in 2001 much of the tech world was excited about the development of a great new mode of transportation being developed by inventor Dean Kamen. That new mode was going to transform the world of transportation. Some said that it would be as significant as the personal computer. Throughout that year, rumors were circulating that it was a hovercraft, a helicopter backpack or some sort of Jetson’s type of teleportation pod. Some said it would be hydrogen powered or driven by the high-tech Stirling engine.
Throughout the year, the US Postal Service, the National Park Service and Amazon.com began using prototypes. But when it was actually unveiled for the first time on the Today Show, it was obvious that it was little more than a motorized scooter. The model in your sermon outline has an average speed of eight miles per hour and can go as far as twelve miles. The official name of it is the Segway Human Transporter. It cost over $90 million to develop, and you can pick yours up for the small price of $4,500.
When Diane Sawyer saw it, she literally said, “That’s ‘It’?” It failed to live up to all the media hype. Someone called it a pogo stick on wheels. Others called it a mini-chariot or a skateboard on steroids. It is interesting, but obviously it will not change the world. On the other hand, in an obscure village some 2,000 years ago an event was taking place that would change the course of history forever. That event began long before the world was created in the mind of God, and while much of humanity considers it to be nothing more than religious hype, you can be sure it was one of the most significant events in history.
Now, remember in our study of Luke that Gabriel has already announced the birth of John; then he visited Mary and told her that while still a virgin she would conceive and bear the boy Jesus. It was after this news that she left Nazareth to visit Elizabeth. When Mary entered the home of Elizabeth and greeted her, John jumped for joy in Elizabeth’s womb. He wasn’t just a lifeless fetus – but a conscious, living baby. Miraculous? Perhaps – but alive nonetheless. Elizabeth then broke out in praise. She recognized that Mary had been chosen from among all women to be the mother of Jesus, that the fruit of her womb was blessed, and that Mary was blessed for one simple reason in verse 45 – she believed. She didn’t doubt what she had been told.
There are some wonderful things contained in verses 39-45, but in our time together this morning it is what we find in verses 45-56 that I want to focus on. God is worthy of our praise. The psalmist said in Psalm 145:3, “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; and his greatness is unsearchable.” In other words, you could spend the rest of your life praising God and you’d never come to the end of reasons to praise Him! His greatness is unsearchable. There’s no end to His greatness – it goes on and on and on!
The things Mary says in these verses are beautiful, and from them I want to draw four conclusions about praise for God that ought to influence our responses to Him. As we celebrate Thanksgiving this week I hope these things will be fresh on your mind. I have heard people say and have said myself that it just doesn’t feel like Thanksgiving, but I want you to know that when we recognize the wonders of God whether it feels like the holiday of Thanksgiving or not, the response of thanksgiving will spontaneously break forth from in our lives.
Make Your Praise about God, Not You
When Mary heard Elizabeth’s words, she could have done what so many of us are prone to do. She could have responded by patting herself on the back. Was she blessed among women? Certainly! Was she to be praised for her faith in God? Sure – but Mary didn’t go on about those things like we might do. Mary did not tell Elizabeth about what a great choice she was. “Well, you know – I try to live a good life and let God use me. I’m just a humble servant.”
Mary didn’t do anything of the sort. When Elizabeth finished speaking, Mary broke out in praise for God; not for herself or anything she had done. It was all about Him! “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.” She took absolutely no credit for what God was doing or for the choice He had made. She didn’t break out in praise for being something special. In fact, the very fact that she wasn’t special made her praise God even more!
Someone might look at the praise Elizabeth offered and say, “But wait – Elizabeth’s praise wasn’t about God. It was about blessed Mary.” That’s right, Elizabeth’s praise was about Mary, but I want you to notice who was praising her. The end of verse 41 says that she was filled with the Holy Ghost, then she spoke some things that had not been revealed to her. Gabriel did not appear to Elizabeth. He appeared to Zacharias, and when he did he foretold the birth of John. Elizabeth had no prior knowledge of what was happening in Mary’s life. It is my opinion that she was used as a mouthpiece by God to say the things that were said. In other words, it was God in the person of the Holy Spirit praising Mary.
If you’re not inclined to accept that opinion I’m okay with that, because regardless of whether the Holy Spirit or Elizabeth is praising Mary, you’ll notice it is not Mary praising Mary. Mary is praising God, not herself. I shouldn’t praise God that I woke up this morning. I ought to praise God that He gave me another day of life. Can I praise God for my talents and abilities? How can I when there are thousands more talented? Can I praise God for my wisdom or scriptural insights? How can I when what I know I have learned from men far wiser and more learned than I? You see, all I really have to praise God for is that He has chosen me: not because of my talents or abilities or smarts. He chose me because He wanted to. It’s about Him, not me. Is it simply a play on words? Perhaps, but I think there is more to it than that – I really believe that our carnal, sinful nature seeks every way possible to make sure that we get noticed, even if it has to be shared with so-called praise to God. Make sure that your praise is about God.
Recognize God for Who and What He Is As Well As For What He Does
Most often we like to praise God for what He is doing in our lives; and certainly we ought to do so. God does give me breath to breathe. He does provide my resources. He does protect me. He has given to me a wonderful family and church, but if all I ever praise God for is what He does for me then I fall far short of giving Him the praise due His name. In fact, if all I praise God for is for what He does, then I am revealing a spirit of mental and spiritual laziness in my life.
When Mary praised God, she praised Him both for what He did and for who He is. Why did she magnify and rejoice in God? Because of what He did: He regarded her low estate. He had done great things to her. He showed strength. He scattered the proud and put down the mighty. He filled the hungry and kept His promises to Israel. Had God done some amazing things? Of course He had! And He deserved her praise for them. But notice that not only does God do amazing things – God is an amazing and great God because of who He is.
In two verses Mary identifies Him by three titles. In verse 46 He is the Lord: the Master and Ruler of life. To say that God is the Lord means that He is in charge. He calls the shots. He has the final say. “My soul doth magnify the Lord!”
Not only is He the Lord, He is God: divine, supreme, and greater than all! It is God who thought up the world. It is God who commanded the universe into existence. It is God who breathed into man the breath of life. It is God who set the sun and moon and stars in motion. It is God who divided the day and the night and tells the oceans and seas where to stop. It is God who holds all the water in the world in the palm of His hand. I was in the doctor’s office Friday and was looking at one of those charts of the human body that had all the various muscles labeled. Listen to me: it is God alone who thought up the human body in all its intricacies! The human body with its thousands of miles of veins and arteries; each system working with such precision, a body so strong and powerful and innovative on the one hand, and yet so fragile and always hanging on the verge of death on the other hand. God alone did that!
He is “God my Savior: my Deliverer.” God was the God of salvation for Mary. He saved her soul; delivered her from damnation and eternal torment. He gave her hope and a future. He was her salvation, and He is the Savior of all!
That is who God is, but Mary helps us see what God is also. In verse 49 He is mighty. Could you part a sea? Could you send a plague? Can you make water come from a rock or cause food to appear out of thin air? When I remember that God flooded the whole earth I see that He is mighty. When I think about Him keeping a disobedient prophet alive in the belly of a whale I know that He is mighty. When read in the gospels about Him raising the dead or making the blind to see, I know that He is mighty. He is mighty enough to disrupt the normal way a baby is born into the world so His only begotten Son could be born. He is mighty enough to put that Son to death for a people who didn’t deserve it. He is mighty enough to raise that dead Son from the grave to prove His power over death and the grave and sin.
Mary said that He is mighty and that He is holy. In fact, He’s not just holy, but holy is His name! Think about the way somebody says to you, “Man, you’re good.” Then you come back by saying, “What are you talking about? Good is my middle name!” God isn’t just holy - holy is His name. He is holy through and through. His thoughts are holy, His actions are holy, His character is holy, His work in your life is holy. He created the world in holiness. Man messed that up. He sent us a Savior in His holiness. Man crucified Him. He offers to make us holy, but think of all the people who reject that offer and spend eternity in hell.
God is mighty and holy, but there’s more. Verse 50 says He’s merciful. Verse 51 says He’s strong. Verse 52 says He is considerate. Verse 53 says He is compassionate. And verse 54 says He is faithful: He keeps His promises. Listen to me: don’t be so shallow and lazy that all you do is praise God for what He does. Take time to praise Him for who and what He is!
Magnify God’s Hand of Mercy and Grace
I’ve heard it said and have been guilty of saying myself that God helps those who help themselves. God does not help those who help themselves. He helps those who cannot help themselves. Look at what Mary said, “He hath regarded my low estate.” He scatters the proud. He puts down the mighty. He sends the rich away. You see that, but I want you to really see this. Who is mighty or rich? Those are relative terms. Mighty and rich compared to whom? Certainly not compared to God! They only think themselves to be so.
God will not help those people. He helps those who recognize their weakness and poverty. James said,
“God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble…Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall life you up.”
Is God some sort of cosmic killjoy? Not at all! He is however a God mercy and grace. God extends mercy and grace to the undeserving. Grace is when you get something you don’t deserve. Mary didn’t deserve to be the mother of Jesus. There was nothing, not a single thing about her to make her deserve to be the mother of Jesus. God in His grace chose her for that honor. Mercy is when God does not give you something you do deserve.
You see, every one of us deserves hell. We all like to talk about what’s fair, but we don’t really want what’s fair. Fair is getting sent to prison for our crime. Fair is getting the ticket when we break the law. Fair is when we all get the punishment we deserve. But God is merciful. He doesn’t give us what’s fair. He gave us Jesus Christ to be the offering for our sin. God is full of grace. He gave to us a gift we don’t deserve.
Do those of low degree deserve to be exalted? Do those who are hungry deserve to be fed? Did Israel deserve to be helped after centuries of rejecting God? Of course not – but they got it all anyway! The more I see myself for what I really am – the greater God’s grace and mercy appear to me. The longer I am saved the more I realize my sinfulness before the holy God I serve, and the more I recognize that sinfulness, the fact that there is nothing good in me, the more I want to magnify the grace and mercy of God. Mary did it and so should we.
Place Yourself in a Position to Praise
What is the best position you can be in to offer praise to God? Standing or sitting? Kneeling or laying prostrate? That’s not the issue. The real issue is altogether different in fact. Both of these ladies offered praise that day because of one thing: they were both in right relation to God. We are told specifically that Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost, and I am of the opinion that Mary was too.
There are many people who do not or can not offer spontaneous, spirit led praise today simply because they are not filled with the Spirit of God. There are two reasons this might be. First of all it may be because you don’t know Christ as your personal Savior. You can’t be filled with something you don’t have. The Bible says though that if you will repent of your sin: be honest about it, turn away from it and turn to God in absolute trust you will be saved. In the instant you make that choice Christ not only seals you with the Holy Spirit, but that same Holy Spirit takes up residence in your life. You are made alive unto God and dead to sin.
But there are many people who have done all that and are still unable to offer praise, and that is because they are not really walking in the Spirit, or are not surrendered to the Holy Spirit’s leading in their lives. What was the one thing that characterized Mary? The thing for which she was praised? It was her obedience – her faith in God. She was surrendered to Him and His will for her life. Are you?
Mary could praise God that day because she made herself available and obedient to God. Now you need to know that everyone is going to bow a knee to Christ sooner or later. Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that He is the Lord. Every one of you will praise God one day. The question is whether you will do now or later. Will you do it voluntarily or not? God is worthy of your praise. The psalmist said, “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; and his greatness is unsearchable.” Will you, like Mary, offer praise to God? Will you bow your knee to Him today? Will you recognize His great worth and express it to Him?
Perhaps the greatest way to express your praise to God has less to do with the words you speak than a life of simple submission to Him and His will for your life. Accept the invitation today to yield your life to His: to simply say, “be it unto me according to your word.”