Today we conclude our posts on Mary’s Magnificat.
In the first post, we contrasted Mary’s song with the “soterian” gospel that focuses primarily (if not solely) on personal salvation. In contrast, we affirmed that in the Magnificat, “Mary proclaims the Gospel. As we will see, it is no mere ‘personal plan of salvation,’ no ‘steps’ by which we find peace with God, no ‘bridge’ to reconciliation with God, no set of ‘laws’ or principles by which we must make a decision. Mary’s song proclaims the climactic moment in a Story, the resolution of issues larger than my personal sin, a hope that stretches beyond the bliss of heaven.”
In our second post, we looked at how Mary’s Magnificat announces the climactic movement of the entire Biblical Story and the answer to the laments and cries of God’s people. This is no mere personal testimony, but a song raised up by an Israelite who recognizes her people are in spiritual exile, under the dominion of their enemies. Like Hannah, whose son Samuel introduced King David, Mary sings a “glad song of gratitude that she has been given a key role in God’s story, and proclaims that this story is reaching its climax in her own day. God’s promises are coming to pass. His King will be enthroned. God’s enemies will fall. His people will be gathered. God will put things right. All is being made new.”
Today, we’ll look at the text of the Magnificat itself. I will make four statements that summarize my observations of what this song teaches and how it relates to the Gospel. Then I will draw out several implications for today. What implications does Mary’s song have for the way we understand and communicate the Gospel in our generation?
“My soul declares that the Lord is great,
My spirit exults in my savior, my God.
He saw his servant-girl in her humility;
From now on, I’ll be blessed by all peoples to come.
The Powerful One, whose name is Holy,
Has done great things for me, for me.
His mercy extends from father to son,
From mother to daughter for those who fear him.
Powerful things he has done with his arm:
He routed the arrogant through their own cunning.
Down from their thrones he hurled the rulers,
Up from the earth he raised the humble.
The hungry he filled with the fat of the land,
But the rich he sent off with nothing to eat.
He has rescued his servant, Israel his child,
Because he remembered his mercy of old,
Just as he said to our long-ago ancestors –
Abraham and his descendants forever.”
• Luke 1:46-55, Kingdom NT
Observations about Mary’s song:
- She sees what God has done for as personal but not private.
- She sees herself in God’s Story, not just God in her story.
- She sees Jesus’ coming as the dawning of The Great Reversal.
- She sees Jesus’ coming as the fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham.
Implications about how we should understand and communicate the Gospel:
1. I must never view the salvation that comes through the Gospel as merely about my own personal piety or peace with God. God does meet us and work in our lives personally, but he does so to draw us into his Kingdom, his New Creation. The Gospel proclaims that he is bringing his Rule to pass on earth as it is in heaven, and we have the privilege of participating in that.
2. Another way to put this is that the Gospel calls me to take my part in God’s Story, not merely to say that God has come to be an actor in my own personal narrative. He has not only “done great things for me,” but “his mercy extends to those who fear him from generation to generation.” The Divine Author has written me into his grand narrative! I am now a member of that great communion of saints that is living out “His-Story” in the world. The Bible and church history is the record of my family heritage. I share in its successes and shortcomings, its accounts of God’s faithfulness and human failure. God calls me to link my life, my sense of meaning, purpose, and significance, and the living out of my vocations to that Story. Because Jesus is the Ultimate Actor and his work the climactic, decisive movement of the Story, he calls me to center my life in Christ. He comes to me as my “Savior,” putting to death the old, sinful, self-centered me and resurrecting me to walk in newness of life in Christ. I do not invite him to come into my life, he invites me into his. He transfers me from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of his beloved Son. In Christ, I enter and become part of his New Creation!
3. Mary expresses the longing for justice that King Jesus came to provide. Those who hold to a soterian gospel relish what has been called, “The Great Exchange” — I am a guilty sinner, Jesus the Righteous One. Through his atoning sacrifice, he takes my sin and guilt upon himself and gives me his righteousness. Through this exchange, I am justified: accepted by God and counted righteous in his sight. I want to affirm this as an important part of the Gospel, but it does not represent its entirety.
The Gospel Mary sings about focuses instead on “The Great Reversal.” The words “my savior” may speak of Mary’s own personal sense of forgiveness and acceptance by God. But most of the song is about how the powerful, rich, and arrogant are cast down while the hungry are satisfied, the poor are taken care of, and the humble are lifted up. This song is not merely about personal righteousness, but about justice being established throughout the entire human community — with a strong emphasis on the latter rather than the former. In other words, Mary’s Gospel answers a much bigger problem than the problem of individuals and their sins. The decisive event in Mary’s Gospel — the coming of King Jesus — grows out of a narrative that includes the entire history of Israel — a story about individuals, yes — but also about communities, nations, kings, conquerors, judicial systems, slaves and masters, exile and devastation, and the corruption that power, riches, and idolatry bring upon the world, marginalizing those outside the inner circles of influence and trampling the human dignity of those who have little or no say in society. The powers that now rule the world are being overthrown! This is the Gospel according to Mary.
4. Mary proclaims nothing less than the fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham. In Gen. 12:1-3, God promised the patriarch that in him, all the families of the earth would be blessed. This promise looks back to creation itself, when God the King prepared an abundant land as his cosmic temple and appointed humans to be his priestly representatives. Their job? Extend God’s blessing throughout the entire world. Genesis 3-11 tells us Adam and Eve and their children failed to trust in God, and thus death and corruption spread over the world instead. Then God called Abram out of Mesopotamia and made him the patriarch through whom God’s blessing would be restored, not only for Israel but for all the world’s peoples. In other words, God’s Kingdom would come to Israel through the Messiah — the son of Abraham and the son of David — and then be extended to all nations.
Mary has a BIG Gospel! — a Gospel that covers the whole Bible and the whole world. This isn’t something she learned as a “deeper truth” for mature Christians; this was her hope and expectation, but it is something the soterians miss because they jump from Genesis to Jesus and don’t include the whole story in their understanding of Gospel as Mary did. From the beginning, Mary praised God as the King who rules the earth, who has called her to join him in the Missio Dei of bringing about the blessing of a New Creation.