What makes worship worship? Worship at it’s core is about elevating God, it’s about recounting his glory and finding joy in Him. When we look at worship in the scriptures it covers a wide breadth of forms but these things are consistent in them all.
If you turn to Luke 1:46-56 you will encounter Mary’s song which is usually called “The Magnificat” because in the Latin translation, Magnificat is the first word of the song. Very early on, the early church began using this song in Christian worship.1
As we prepare to read this together, please notice how much of Mary’s song is past tense but still refers to future events from her time. Her song is therefore both worship for the moment as well as prophecy of the future on top of an eager faithful expectation of what God will do because it is what He said He would do.
Let’s read this one together. Please stand as you are able and hear then the word of the Lord, Luke 1:46-56.
True Worship Happens in the Heart
The first line of the song calls out “My soul exalts the Lord!” To exalt God is literally just to declare that he is great. But it’s not just what it said about God that we should see here. It is after all Mary’s soul that exalts the Lord, not merely her lips. This is worship of the very core of her being – not lip-service.
Looking at it this week has had me asking myself a question I now share with you. “Am I worshiping God with my soul or just with my lips? Does God feel inclined to say of me, ‘these people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me!’” (Isaiah 29:13)
Not so with Mary. Mary Worshiped from the Heart. Hers was not a worship of the lips only but of the heart. The whole song is written in the form of Hebrew poetry, which utilizes parallel statements to make it’s point. For instance, if you look at these first two verses (Luke 1:46-47) The second statement is a repetition of the idea of the first.
“My Soul Exalts the Lord”
“My Spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.”
So the main core of that thought is that her worship is from the depths of her heart. One doesn’t speak of a soul response lightly.
The second layer is that she is worshiping God. It’s not a very subtle point, but it’s important. I love much of the contemporary Christian music – across the whole spectrum of styles. And yet there’s a major line between turning up the radio because “I really like this song” and because this song really helps me worship God.
The same can be said for the hymns that most of you are so familiar with. When you sing the song with gusto is it because you like the tune or because you’re expressing the words to the Lord, God your savior?
The third layer I see in her worship from the heart is that it is ongoing. While in poetic literature like this song we shouldn’t make too much of word choice, because poetry demands flexibility – we can take special note here, I think, of the tense of the verbs which appear to span time. In the first line the verb is present tense while in the second line, it’s in the past. Which demonstrates a consistency in worship for Mary.
Her spirit has rejoiced and she exalts the Lord right now. It shows us that worship is not merely a momentary thing. We are called to worship God in spirit and in truth, let us then, in the words of Hebrews 13:15, continually offer up a sacrifice of Praise to God through Jesus Christ – that is the fruit of lips that acknowledge His name.
This is not a new rejoicing her Spirit has also rejoiced in God. Whom is quite clearly called her savior because she also needed a savior.
Mary’s ongoing, God focused worship took place first in her heart before it ever sprang to her lips. True worshipers will worship God in Spirit and in truth, Jesus said. Indeed true worship begins in the heart.
True Worship Responds to the Character of God
Moving on through her song, we can see that Mary’s reasons for worshiping God are related to his character and works. In the remainder of her song she gives a series of declarations concerning what God has done in three distinct realms.
The first realm is Mary herself. She will praise God for what he has done in, to and for her.
The second realm is all of mankind. She will praise God for God’s sovereignty over mankind, it’s kingdoms, kings and His justice and judgment.
The third realm is the work of God for the Jews in particular.
Everything she sings praise about is both a retelling and a prophecy of sorts. All that God has done or will do she phrases in the past tense believing strongly that what God has said he will do he will do. When the Angel came to her he declared that Jesus “will be great and will be called the son of the Most High… He will reign over the house of Jacob forever and his kingdom will have no end.”
From Mary’s perspective even though those prophecies are yet future, she announces them and their fulfillment as if they were a done deal. Already the first half of all of them demands the anointed one, and she is pregnant with him now. How can anything keep God then from fulfilling His promises? This poetic song of hers is a demonstration of her faith in God to keep his promises.
The first item for which Mary praises God is that he has favorably noted Mary who self describes her “humble state”. That didn’t mean merely that she was humble in her character – although I don’t doubt that is true. It means also that she acknowledges that there was nothing “special” about her – that is she is just a common girl from Nazareth. When God selected Mary he took a completely unremarkable girl in her culture and turned her into someone who would be remembered for all generations.
There’s nothing wrong with being “common” and ordinary especially in God’s eyes. Common and ordinary means that you are ready to be used by God. God has rejected all that this world considers important.
1 Corinthians 1:26-29
“For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, 28 and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God.”
True Worship is about God
Again we see in verses 48 and 49 the repetition of certain themes in parallel.
God has had regard for the humble state of his slave (V48)
And God has done great things for her (v49)
Indeed what God has done for Mary is a great thing. But there is a capstone in Mary’s worship, it’s not just about what God has done for her, the core of her worship indeed isn’t based upon the fact that things are going well at the moment for Mary.
Mary is rejoicing in God not merely because of what he has done for her – but the greater reason is that his name is Holy. Don’t miss that importance. It is awfully easy to worship when something great happens to us. But Mary’s worship here did not just spring from the circumstance – even the circumstance of God’s blessing. Job said it best when he asked his wife, “Shall we accept good only from God’s hand and not also accept adversity?” (Job 2:8)
Let me tell you about worship that is about God and not about yourself.
This week I was touched as one after another various news correspondents were brought face to face with the dichotomy of hopelessness and joy in Haiti. They variously described the horrific scenes in Haiti, as the terrible pictures which we’ve all seen now scrolled on the screen and tried to describe the stench and the raw misery around him One paused for a moment and described a group of women standing with their arms in the air defiantly singing hymns of worship to God.
Another reporter wrote, “Christians, even though devastated in the earthquake, are in the streets and squares, defiantly worshiping God, singing hymns and praying.”2
Boise State University French professor Jason Herbeck was in the earthquake, he described the eerie silence of that first night or rather he describes how it was broken around 2:00 AM with the sounds of worship,
“From midnight until 2 a.m. what I initially thought was a crowd of angry people from afar, was, I realized as it grew near (I never actually saw it), what sounded like a huge group of children singing. Not wanting to go back into their homes (if they were left standing), the people had come together to sing prayers, I think. It was the saddest, most scared, yet defiant, singing I’ve ever heard. In the middle of one of the songs, a huge aftershock hit. The song turned to screams as it hit, but as soon as the shock ended, the song began again, even more scared and defiant.”3
I guarantee that those singing Christians were not ignoring reality, they were centered in on it. True worship is not founded upon the moments of joy and surrendered in the midst of misery – the glory of God, continues throughout all of human existence.
When the angels are singing in your ear, Holy is His Name!
When the demons are shouting threats and despair, Holy is His Name!
Though the mountains crumble into the seas and around us everything is ruined, Holy is His Name!
True worship is not contingent on how things are going for us, else we are the center of worship. Worship is contingent on the character and nature of the one worshiped therefore God is to be worshiped because he is Holy. Mary says his name is holy which is to say his character is holy.
Application: Worship God for who he is, not for what we get out of it otherwise our worship is merely self-idolatry.
Walter A. Elwell and Philip Wesley Comfort, Tyndale Bible Dictionary, Tyndale reference library (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers, 2001), 844.
– Haiti Earthquake – Francis Frangipane.
State professor recounts his experiences in Haiti earthquake | Local
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