Sunday School Lesson

December 11

Lesson 2

The Affirmation of the Promise

Devotional Reading: Psalm 111

Background Scripture: Luke 1:39-56

Luke 1:39-56

39 And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda;

40 And entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth.

41 And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost:

42 And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.

43 And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?

44 For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.

45 And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.

46 And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord,

47 And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.

48 For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.

49 For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name.

50 And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.

51 He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.

52 He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.

53 He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.

54 He hath holpen his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy;

55 As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.

56 And Mary abode with her about three months, and returned to her own house.

Key Verses

Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.Luke 1:46, 47

Lesson Aims

After participating in this lesson, each learner will be able to:

1. Identify Old Testament themes in Mary’s Song (“Magnificat”).

2. Explain how themes in Mary’s song inform the Christian understanding of God’s providential care.

3. Share with a classmate personal experiences of unexpected blessing.

Lesson Outline

Introduction

A. The Joy of Being Chosen

B. Lesson Background

I. Mary’s Visit (Luke 1:39-45)

A. Hasty Trip (vv. 39, 40)

B. Exuberant Reactions (vv. 41-45)

II. Mary’s Song (Luke 1:46-55)

A. Joy and Blessing (vv. 46-49)

The God Who Confirms

Fifteen Minutes of Fame

B. Mercy and Retribution (vv. 50-55)

III. Mary’s Return (Luke 1:56)

Conclusion

A. Ordinary People

B. Prayer

C. Thought to Remember

Introduction

 

A. The Joy of Being Chosen

Nothing feels better than being chosen. The childhood joy of receiving an invitation to a party is unforgettable. Being asked on a date (or getting a yes when doing the asking) builds self-esteem. Being offered a job, especially after we’ve lost one, enhances self-confidence. The good feeling that results from such situations may stem from a sense of deserving or having earned the choosing.

On the other hand, things that are unearned can be difficult to receive. We easily imagine Mary to have felt this way after being told that she was God’s choice to bear His Son (Luke 1:26-38, last week’s lesson). All of us feel awed at times by the depth of God’s grace. But to be chosen for no apparent reason to be the earthly mother of the Christ—how overwhelming, especially considering that Mary was likely still a teenager at the time! Today’s lesson gives us a glimpse into Mary’s joy at being chosen to fill this marvelous role.

B. Lesson Background

Last week’s lesson reviewed Gabriel’s announcement that Mary was to give birth to the Messiah. Since that announcement forms the immediate background for the lesson at hand, that information need not be repeated here. But against the broader backdrop of salvation-history, the unexpected, miraculous pregnancies of Mary and Elisabeth meant that the two women stood at the very threshold of prophetic fulfillment.

Neither one knew the details of how God would use their unborn sons to fulfill the promises in Luke 1:16, 17, 32, 33. Even so, it is almost certain that at least elderly Elisabeth, wife of a priest, was aware of past incidents of miraculous, old-age pregnancies like hers; such awareness would have undergirded her faith for the days ahead (Genesis 17:19; 25:21; Judges 13:3-5; 1 Samuel 1:5, 20).

The much younger Mary, for her part, may have been aware that her unprecedented virginal conception was fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14. Further, her declarations in this week’s lesson, traditionally referred to as “Mary’s Song,” reflect Old Testament passages that praise God for caring for the helpless. For example, scholars often observe that the imagery of Luke 1:46-55 is very similar to that of 1 Samuel 2:1-10, the prayer of Hannah. She, like Mary’s relative Elisabeth, had been unable to conceive (1 Samuel 1:2, 5; Luke 1:7), but each was miraculously blessed to bear a son (1 Samuel 1:20; Luke 1:24). Mary and Elisabeth had good reason to celebrate God’s faithfulness as the saints before them had.

I. Mary’s Visit

                                                                  (Luke 1:39-45)

A. Hasty Trip (vv. 39, 40)

39. And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda.

Mary lives in “a city of Galilee, named Nazareth” (Luke 1:26), while Elisabeth and husband Zacharias (a priest, 1:5) live in an unnamed city of Juda. The two villages are located in different areas that later will have different rulers (Matthew 2:22; Luke 3:1), but for now Herod the Great rules both. Hilly Juda is the district that includes Jerusalem.

Most priests do not live in Jerusalem. Instead, they live on property inherited through ancestral lineage (compare Nehemiah 11:20). They serve in Jerusalem on occasion, according to a system of casting lots (Luke 1:8, 9; next week’s lesson). Rural priests, as Zacharias seems to be, work on farms as most people do in preindustrial economies.

Mary feels the need to visit Elisabeth with haste. Some speculate the haste is from a sense of duty to assist an expectant mother with household chores. This could be especially so given that Elisabeth, “well stricken in years” as she is, is now in the sixth month of her pregnancy (Luke 1:7, 36). The better answer is that Mary’s trip is in reaction to what we might call “the sign element” in Gabriel’s announcement (1:36). Elisabeth’s miraculous pregnancy will be a sign—although the text does not use that word—to Mary, and she wishes to confirm it without delay (compare 2:12, 15, 16).

How to Say It

Bethlehem Beth-lih-hem.

Gabriel Gay-bree-ul.

Juda Joo-duh.

Judean Joo-dee-un.

Magnificat Mag-nif-ih-cot.

Nazareth Naz-uh-reth.

Zacharias Zack-uh-rye-us.

What Do You Think?

How can we do better at knowing when haste is called for versus the opposite?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

In normal, day-to-day routines

In dealing with a crisis

When considering a ministry opportunity

Comparing and contrasting Proverbs 19:2; 21:5; 29:20; Ecclesiastes 5:2; 7:9; 8:3; Matthew 5:25; 28:8; Luke 2:16; Acts 22:18; 1 Timothy 5:22; and James 1:19

40. And entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth.

The trip must be exhausting for Mary. The minimum distance for the trip is 35 miles, assuming that the house of Zacharias is at the northernmost tip of Judean territory. But Luke makes no mention either of distance or exhaustion. Instead, he focuses on the interactions of those present.

On entering the house, Mary begins a normal exchange of greetings with Elisabeth; the verb translated saluted is translated elsewhere in terms of greeting (Romans 16:3-11; etc.).

B. Exuberant Reactions (vv. 41-45)

41. And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost.

Mary’s arrival provokes a startling response! There is nothing inherently unusual about a baby moving about in the womb, of course. But the timing of that reaction is significant in view of the relationship that later emerges between Jesus (Mary’s child) and John the Baptist (Elisabeth’s child). The latter is “filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb” as empowerment “to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:15-17; see next week’s lesson). Even before his birth, John begins to fulfill his role by signaling to his mother that the anticipated Christ, himself yet unborn, is present. At the same time, Elisabeth is filled with the Spirit to confirm the message Mary has received from the angel (next verse).

Visual for Lesson 2. Start a discussion by pointing to this visual as you ask learners how they will do this and why it is important.

42. And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.

The word blessed occurs four times in today’s text: twice here and once each in verses 45 and 48b. However, different Greek words are behind these translations.

The word behind the two translations blessed here in verse 42 is also our English word eulogy. As we use that word today, we refer to statements spoken or written in honor of someone who has died. But we should not take the modern way we use this word and “read it back” into the Bible! There it means “to speak well of,” “to praise,” “to celebrate with praises,” or “to extol” someone, but not just at funerals. Elisabeth is speaking well of Mary while the latter is still very much alive!

In view of the significance attached to this verse in some religious circles, it is important to point out that these two pronouncements do not say why Mary is blessed. That will wait until we encounter different uses of blessed in verses 45 and 48, below.

43. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?

Elisabeth is surprised and honored to see her younger relative. In turn, Mary must be very surprised to hear Elisabeth’s knowledge of something that Mary herself has only recently learned from an angel! Mary is not visibly pregnant at this time (see 1:26, 35, 36, 39), and time factors make it extremely doubtful that Elisabeth has been informed by any normal mode of communication that Mary has conceived. The greatest likelihood is that Elisabeth has been informed supernaturally by being “filled with the Holy Ghost” (v. 41, above).

44. For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.

This verse repeats information of verse 41, above, and adds for joy. John the Baptist’s prenatal reaction seems somehow to reflect his own sense of anticipation of the coming of the one who will give meaning to John’s mission.

45. And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.

The word translated blessed here and in verse 48b is the one Jesus will later use in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-11). This word has a range of meanings of something like “enjoying favorable circumstances,” “well off,” “happy,” and/or “fortunate.” Use of this word normally includes a reason or explanation for someone to be regarded as blessed.

We see such a reason here in the phrase for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord. That’s why Mary is blessed. She is not said to be blessed because she is particularly outstanding or worthy of merit (see more on v. 48, below).

Elisabeth’s declarations provide a transition to Mary’s Song that follows by highlighting two themes: (1) God’s blessings are for the faithful, and (2) God fulfills His promises.

II. Mary’s Song

                                                                  (Luke 1:46-55)

A. Joy and Blessing (vv. 46-49)

46, 47. And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.

The praise Mary expresses reveals that she views Elisabeth’s blessing as a confirmation of Gabriel’s message of Luke 1:35. If Mary has wondered whether her encounter with the angel were merely a hallucination, her elderly relative’s awareness is verification of fact. The terms rejoiced and God my Saviour anchor major themes of what follows.

The God Who Confirms

When the characters in a science-fiction story encounter things typically thought of as unreal, which violate the laws of physics, etc., the writer must find ways to make such things believable to both the characters and the readers. The writer’s task is to help suspend disbelief.

But how can you help people believe that the impossible just happened? How can they be assured that they are not hallucinating or otherwise losing their faculties? The more outlandish the literary scenario, the more the author must work to create a realistic response from the characters and thereby keep the reader engaged.

The Bible is not fiction, but its characters are confronted with things outside mindsets formed by life experiences. Consider the angelic communication to Mary of last week’s lesson. This visit carried the risk that she would be left tragically confused—Did I hallucinate? Am I losing my mind?—until the passage of weeks and months proved the physical reality of her pregnancy. (Compare Peter’s mistaken impression in Acts 12:9-11.) How gracious of God to provide Mary the confirmation we see in today’s text!

We serve a God who confirms His Word and His calls (Romans 15:8; 1 Corinthians 1:5, 6; etc.). He does not leave us uncertain. For this may we be filled with the joy of the Lord!—V. E.

What Do You Think?

How do you expect God to confirm callings on your life? What if those sources conflict?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

The role of Scripture

The role of counsel by fellow Christians

How we expect God to answer prayer

Open and closed doors of opportunity

48a. For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden.

This is the reason for the praise expressed in verse 47. Clearly, Mary is not chosen for her special role because she is a special person—quite the opposite! The fact that she is of low estate is critical to Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth: God’s Son came from and for such as these (compare Luke 2:8-20; 1 Corinthians 1:26-2:5).

48b. For, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.

This prediction we now know to be a matter of established historical fact, and Mary’s fame throughout the world and over millennia (all generations) is indeed remarkable. Yet if not handled carefully, the prominence of this fact in the history of Christian doctrine may distract from its true significance. Verse 49 (next) clarifies.

Fifteen Minutes of Fame

In a world with more than seven billion people, attempts to distinguish oneself can be daunting. Even so, the existence of video-sharing websites, televised talent competitions, and so-called reality TV have kept alive the concept of “15 minutes of fame,” an expression traceable to the late 1960s. Fame seems to be something many people would like to achieve.

Fame, whether fleeting or lasting, can bring benefits. A famous person may get special treatment. He or she may even get a platform to influence the world in a positive way. But when God singles out someone for His kind of fame, that person’s legacy ends up being eternally significant (see Hebrews 11). Mary was correct in noting that all generations would call her blessed. Selected by God from obscurity, Mary is remembered by Christians every Christmas season for her faithfulness.

Most of us will live our earthly lives in obscurity, as the world defines that concept. But God sees our actions and knows the motives behind them. Loving obedience pleases Him (2 John 6); humility results in His grace (1 Peter 5:5). While we may never receive an exalted title, be elected to high office, or be offered an invitation to host a TV show, God makes note of those who serve Him faithfully. They are the ones to be called blessed forever. See Revelation 20:6; 22:14.—V. E.

49. For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name.

As in verse 45 (above), a reason or explanation is given for why Mary is to be considered blessed. We should note carefully that the focus is on God, not on Mary. God is the one who does great things to her, not the reverse. God is the one whose name is holy (Psalm 103:1; 105:3; etc.). Despite her lowly status—or perhaps because of it—the mighty Creator of the universe sees fit to include her in His plans. Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel 2:1-10 is parallel in also affirming God’s power and holiness at the outset (see the Lesson Background).

What Do You Think?

Is it possible to overstate God’s role in circumstances that change? Why, or why not?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Regarding circumstances of blessing

Regarding circumstances of distress

Considering Ecclesiastes 9:11

B. Mercy and Retribution (vv. 50-55)

50. And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.

Many psalms connect God’s mercy and/or love with them that fear him (see Psalms 33:18; 103:11, 17; 118:4; 147:11). Mary’s point is not that God is never merciful to those who do not fear Him, but rather that He is always merciful to those who do—regardless of their circumstances.

What Do You Think?

How do we know when we fear the Lord properly? How do we correct problems here?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

In attitudes about ourselves

In interacting with the secular world in general

In attitudes toward and interactions with others in particular

In personal habits and disciplines

Other

51. He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.

The imagery of God’s arm as an indication of His strength or power is a vivid Old Testament theme (Psalm 89:10, 13; Isaiah 40:10; Jeremiah 21:5; etc.). The proud refers not so much to those who merely think too highly of themselves (which, of course, is not good; see Romans 12:3), but more to those who actively oppose God and intend harm for His people (Psalm 94:1-6; 123:3, 4). Those controlled by the imagination of their hearts do not allow God’s Word to direct their behavior (Ezekiel 13:1-3, 17; Romans 1:21-23).

Old Testament references to God’s might or strength are often accompanied by accounts of what He has done to deliver His people from proud schemers (Exodus 15:1-18; etc.). Such passages highlight Israel’s lowly state and unworthiness in order to emphasize God’s graciousness and power—He overcomes enemies that His people cannot. The verse before us connects Mary’s personal experiences with great acts of past deliverance: God exalts the faithful regardless of their status otherwise. He is once again choosing the lowly (Mary) to fill an important role in His plan.

52. He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.

Mary’s summarizes much of Israel’s history: God exalted those of low degree (Genesis 41:41; Psalm 78:70, 71; 113:7, 8; etc.) while dethroning the mighty (Job 12:19; Isaiah 10:12-19; Jeremiah 28:15-17; etc.). The latter theme is especially prominent in terms of foreign powers that oppressed or conspired to destroy Israel. God laughs at such schemes (Psalm 2:1-4).

Mary’s statements also anticipate Jesus’ later teachings regarding position reversals of the powerful and the weak (Luke 14:7-11; 18:9-14; etc.). He himself will be the ultimate example, as Mary and others will find out (Acts 2:32, 33; 2 Corinthians 8:9; Philippians 2:5-11).

53. He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.

This verse parallels the language of Hannah’s prayer at 1 Samuel 2:5. The rich is usually a derogatory term for those who gain wealth by exploiting the innocent (Proverbs 22:7; James 2:6, 7; etc.). Although wealthy landowners and officials manipulate the economy and the justice system to their advantage (Ezekiel 22:27-29; Amos 5:11, 12; etc.), God can’t be bought. He blesses those who are faithful, and Mary seems to be identifying herself with the hungry whom God fills with good things. God certainly did not choose the richest woman in the world (as the world counts being rich) to be the earthly mother of Jesus!

54. He hath holpen his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy.

Mary’s words again echo an Old Testament theme of deliverance (compare Psalm 98:3; Isaiah 41:8-10). Various psalms and prophecies express desire for and prediction of God’s deliverance of Israel from dire threats (example: Psalm 79). These were traceable to apostasy (2 Chronicles 6:36-39).

More narrowly, this verse may also focus on Mary’s own experience. God had promised to deliver His people through the coming of a certain servant (Isaiah 52:13-53:12; etc.), and Mary recognizes her role in God’s fulfillment of that promise. Surely all this is taking place in remembrance of his mercy! God is doing what He said He would do (compare 2 Samuel 7:16; Isaiah 7:14). In passing, we can note that the older expression hath holpen is equivalent to “has helped” (present perfect tense).

55. As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.

Deliverance validates God’s promises to the fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed. God’s people are protected if they remain, or return to being, faithful (example: Genesis 17:7; Psalm 105:42-45). Mary connects those promises with her child, but more than 30 years will elapse before she knows all the details. The promises and details are ours as well, since “they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham” (Galatians 3:9).

III. Mary’s Return

                                                                       (Luke 1:56)

56. And Mary abode with her about three months, and returned to her own house.

The fact that six months (Luke 1:36) plus three months equals nine months could indicate that Mary stays until John is born. But verse 57 offers evidence that Mary departs just prior to the birth. Nazareth, location of her own house, will be the point of departure for Bethlehem, where Mary’s child will be born (2:1-5).

What Do You Think?

What has to happen for you to realize that God is changing your plans? Why?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Regarding situations that call for action that you had not planned to take

Regarding situations that call for inaction when you had planned otherwise

Conclusion

                                                                                                            A. Ordinary People

In 1984, Helen Ashe of Knoxville, Tennessee, saw a local news story about a church that sponsored a soup kitchen for the needy. Her heart was stirred, and she and her twin sister, Ellen, sensed a call to start a food ministry to “help feed God’s children.” So on Valentine’s Day 1986, the 58-year-old sisters launched The Love Kitchen at a small church, serving 22 people on that first day.

The Love Kitchen today operates out of its own facilities as it serves more than 3,000 meals weekly. Remarkably, it is an all-volunteer organization, with no paid staff.

God still calls ordinary people to do extraordinary things. At age 80, Moses was called from self-imposed exile to lead the Israelites from Egypt (Exodus 3:10; 7:7); elderly Elisabeth suffered the disgrace of infertility (Luke 1:7, 13-25); Mary and Joseph probably had no earthly status above that of any other working-class resident of Galilee. The church today is filled with people who should identify with Mary’s statement that “He hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden.” Do you?

B. Prayer

Father, we thank You for Your works of deliverance! Help us recognize occasions when You call us to participate in Your plan. May You strengthen us as we do. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

C. Thought to Remember

God uses people we might not expect in ways we might not imagine.


December 18

Lesson 3

The Forerunner of the Savior

Devotional Reading: John 1:19-23

Background Scripture: Luke 1:1-25, 57-80

Luke 1:8-20

8 And it came to pass, that while he executed the priest’s office before God in the order of his course,

9 According to the custom of the priest’s office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord.

10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense.

11 And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense.

12 And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him.

13 But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.

14 And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth.

15 For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb.

16 And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God.

17 And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

18 And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years.

19 And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings.

20 And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season.

Key Verses

The angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth.—Luke 1:13, 14

Lesson Aims

After participating in this lesson, each learner will be able to:

1. Summarize the circumstances of John the Baptist’s miraculous conception.

2. Identify points where the angel’s pronouncement draws on Old Testament themes to depict John’s future ministry.

3. Identify times when his or her faith is more like that of Zacharias than that of Mary, and make a plan for change.

Lesson Outline

Introduction

A. When We Least Expect It

B. Lesson Background

I. Unsuspecting Priest (Luke 1:8-10)

A. Special Honor (vv. 8, 9)

Lots of Luck?

B. Typical Crowd (v. 10)

II. Unexpected Announcement (Luke 1:11-17)

A. Startling Appearance (vv. 11, 12)

B. Incredible Promise (vv. 13, 14)

C. Unique Ministry (vv. 15-17)

III. Unwanted Proof (Luke 1:18-20)

A. Skeptical Question (v. 18)

B. Indignant Response (vv. 19, 20)

On Being Speechless

Conclusion

A. Too Good to Be True?

B. Prayer

C. Thought to Remember


Standard Lesson Commentary 2016-2017 (KJV): StandardLessonCmy2016KJV.

"Suggestions for families are taken from Standardlesson.com,

Standard Publishing Group, LLC. Used with permission. More resources for families are available at Standardpub.com.


God Bless