The World Turned Upside Down

December 3, 2006 / No. 3335

Dear radio friends,

     Today, and for the coming weeks, we hope to turn our attention to the wonder of God’s love in the birth of Jesus Christ our Savior, to the wonderful truth of God’s grace—that He gave His own Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.  We are going to be directing ourselves to that miracle of Bethlehem where God’s own and eternal Son took upon Himself our human flesh in order that He might make a perfect payment for the sins of God’s elect children—so that they bear them no more.  And that He is the One through whom we have received the gift of life eternal, life forevermore.

     Perhaps there is no aspect of the gospel that is so distorted, twisted, and misunderstood as that of Christ’s birth and the reason for that birth in Bethlehem.  If we were to canvass society today and ask the question, “What does it mean that Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem?  What was the purpose of the birth of God’s Son in the manger?” we would receive a host of different answers.  Some would respond, “Well, it has to do with a vague feeling of good will, good cheer, and friendliness.”  Others would say, “No, it’s deeper than that.  It calls us to action.  The word,” they would say, “of His birth is:  peace, and no war, and the abolishment of armaments, and nations must become friendly.”  And others, perhaps, would answer the question along these lines:  “Well, God gave His Son to be born in the world to reaffirm the inherent and basic goodness of the human nature.”

     All of these answers are utterly false.

     The Scriptures declare to us that the birth of Jesus Christ had to do with what God would do.  And that, in that work, God would cast down the proud, the mighty, and the rich; and that He would exalt the lowly, the weak, and the poor in spirit.  The Scriptures declare that the birth of Jesus Christ has to do with God’s grace, by which He topples man and all of his pride and sin and whereby He alone is exalted as the God who saves and who alone can save through His Son Jesus Christ.

     The virgin Mary saw this.  She saw it in a flash.  Our text today is taken from Luke 1:51-53, which is part of Mary’s song, called the Magnificat.  We call it the Magnificatbecause that is how she began her song of praise:  “My soul doth magnify the Lord.”  She stands, at this moment, before Elisabeth her cousin.  And all the wonder of the purpose of God in the giving of His Son in human flesh comes to her.  Here she stands before her cousin Elisabeth, who has greeted her as the mother of her Lord, as the one who now bears within her womb the very flesh and blood of God’s Son.  She has greeted her exaltingly.  Then Mary responds in a song of praise to God.  And in that song she sees that the birth of Jesus Christ has to do with what God is doing.  God will bring down the proud and the exalted.  He will exalt the lowly.  In other words, God will turn topsy-turvy the judgment of man.  He will turn the world upside down.

     The words that we want to look at are found in Luke 1:51-53.   “He [that is, God] hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.  He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.  He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.”  As I said, in those words, by the Holy Spirit, it became clear to the virgin Mary.  It became crystal clear.  By grace she caught a glimpse of God’s purpose in the giving of His Son.

     The birth of Jesus Christ is, after all, the central moment of time and history.  The Bible declares that it was for His birth that all else was before it.  And the Bible declares that it was because of His birth that all since has transpired.  Jesus Christ was born ( Gal. 4) in the fullness of time, the focal point of all time.  Now, what was God’s intent in doing this?  Why did God give His Son to be born in our flesh?  What was in God’s heart when He did so?  It is into this that the virgin Mary is given a glimpse.  Her eyes are opened through the Old Testament Scriptures.  For, if you read her song (Luke 1:46ff.), you will see that Mary’s song of praise there is, in reality, but a compilation of various Old Testament Scriptures and Psalms.  But they are arranged in such a way as to show that to Mary it is now clear.

     It is not only clear to her that she was to be the mother of the Messiah.  She was to be the mother, the human agent of bringing forth into this world, of the very Son of God in flesh.  That, in itself, was staggering, utterly staggering, to her.  But more.  Her words show that she realizes the purpose of God’s doing this.  God is going to do this for His glory and honor, to show that salvation is entirely of Him.

     She is very clear as to what God’s purpose is.  She sees that God, in the giving of His Son into flesh, has calculated to bring low man’s pride and to exalt His own grace as the only way of salvation.  It all, so to speak, comes together.  She sees that God is bringing man low and exalting Himself.  She may not have been able to express that truth of the exaltation of God and His Son in all of its wonderful theological terms and insights, but she is seeing, nevertheless, what all of the people of God have seen concerning the coming of God’s grace into the world.

     Isaiah saw it.  In Isaiah 2:17 we read “And the loftiness of man shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men shall be made low:  and the LORD alone shall be exalted in that day.”  The apostle Paul saw it.  He writes in I  Corinthians 1 that no flesh should glory in His presence, but he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.  In other words, Mary, Isaiah, and Paul, and all who love the Lord see the birth of Jesus Christ as being theocentric.  Theo-centric means God-centered.  It is all about what God will do and how God shall glorify Himself.  And so she cries out:  “My soul doth magnify the Lord.”

     Is that what you see in the birth of Jesus Christ?  You see much more than just the humble beginnings of a great human being.  You see that it is more than just trying to promote understanding and peace among men.  But do you catch a glimpse of the truth of what God is going to do to glorify Himself as the Savior?

     Mary is seeing that the coming of Jesus Christ into the world is entirely about what God will do and has done unaided, calling for none to help Him.  She says, “He hath shown the strength of His arm,” or “He has shown His might.”  Christmas is not about what man is going to do.  It is not about what man ought to do.  It is about what God has done.  The Christian gospel to the world is not, first of all, this, that we say, “Now you should be at your best, you should put into effect in society a spirit that will bring peace.”  But the Christian gospel or the Christmas gospel declares what God has done.  God has done something sure.

     Notice, when Mary sings she uses the past tense—of something that has been accomplished.  “God hath showed.”  “God hath scattered.”  “God hath put down.”  “God has filled.”  She uses words pointing to the past.  Yet she is speaking of things that are in the future.  She speaks of the Christ-child who has just been conceived in her womb.  Perhaps she is in the first month of her pregnancy.  All of these things are yet to be accomplished.  But yet she confesses that in her womb is the key to all that is in the future.  In her womb is the mighty God, the One through whom God has willed that He will triumph and of what He will do.

     She sees that in the giving of His Son, God is turning the world upside down, that God has made a complete reversal of man’s thinking, that God has put all of man’s notions down, and God has placed Himself on high.  Mary sees the world turned upside down, in her thought and in her judgment, by the birth of Jesus Christ, God’s Son.

     The table, she says, has been turned on man’s estimations in three ways.  For we note three things that she speaks of, three things that proud man would boast of:  Man’s wisdom, man’s power, and man’s wealth.

     Mary says, “He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their heart.”  The imagination of one’s heart is a figurative expression of man’s pride, haughtiness, and arrogance—when man, of himself, thinks himself to be something.  The expression comes from Jeremiah 3:17, where men are said to walk after the imagination of their evil heart.  That is when a man, apart from God, apart from trust and humility before God, would say, “We know.  We can solve our problems.  Belief in God is an old thing, for weak people.  Obedience to God is not necessary.  We can discover the truth by ourselves, for ourselves.”

     It is then that men begin to imagine that they are great.  An imagination is, of course, something that is not real.  They begin to imagine that they are great.  That is not real.  That is not true.  That is an imagination.  Men begin to say, “We are the experts.  We are the brainy people.”  They are puffed up.  They are proud of their learning.  And they begin to dream that they are able to figure out the way—the way out of all of the world’s chaos and problems.

     In Jesus’ day this mentality of the proud imagination of man simply filled the world.  There were the Greek philosophers.  And then the Roman clone-philosophers after them. Then there were all the great men in the day of Jesus Christ.  Man was saying, when Jesus was born, “We are man.  We will put God on the dissecting table.  We will discover what is truth and what is not.  We are great.”

     But in the coming of God’s Son, God hath scattered, says Mary, the proud imaginations of men.  God hath blown this all away.  God has exposed the folly of man.  Man, in the birth of Jesus Christ, is exposed for who he is, for God has sent His Son to be the Savior.  Therefore, God is declaring through the gift of His Son that man, of himself, cannot know truth, cannot solve his problems.  For God has reached down in grace in order to instruct, through the gift of faith in Jesus Christ.

     God has scattered the wisdom of man, blown it away, when He gave His own Son to be born.  God has made man look silly in the coming of His Son.  Man has said, “We are sufficient.  We know where we came from.  And we know where we are going.”  God gives His Son in Bethlehem, and in that gift He says, “No, you don’t.  You deny where you came from.  You came from My hand.  I created you.  You deny where you are going.  Apart from faith in Me and the removal of your sin, you are going to hell.  You say that you can save yourself?  You trust in your own wisdom?”  God, in the giving of His Son, has scattered the wisdom of man, and He has declared that man is fallen and foolish and blind and a haughty dreamer.  Only God’s Son, by the giving of Himself in a perfect sacrifice upon Calvary, can redeem him.  The gospel of Jesus’ birth sweeps up as dust all the philosophy of man and throws the dust out the door.

     There is one way to truth:  Through this Son, Jesus Christ, God’s Son in the flesh, the only Savior and Redeemer.

     But Mary says, Not only has He put down the wisdom of man, but He has put down the might of man.  Mary says, “He hath put down the mighty from their seats.”  Seats refersto thrones.  It is a reference to the status of a man, to the power of a man, to the influence of a man, to a king who would boast of his power, to a corporate executive who would boast of wealth and influence, to politicians.  God has put this down.

     Man says, “Not only are we wise, but we are powerful.  We can control, we can manipulate, we can bring things to pass that we desire.”  At last, the Bible says, that this pride of man, this boasting of his power, is going to be expressed in the antichristian kingdom, the Antichrist who is going to declare that he is God and that he, by his power, can accomplish what he wants.

     But God, in the sending of His Son, has put down the mighty.  God has dethroned him.  God has declared that all human might is worthless and vain.  In the giving of His Son, God is declaring that, no matter how man would strive to establish himself, he is but dust, a sinner, and he falls under death and cannot save himself from death.

     But more.  In the giving of His Son in the way of lowliness and shame, God has also raised up His Son to all power.  In the giving of His Son God has declared that all might, all authority, all power will be invested in His Son, the Son who has gone to the cross to bear away the guilt of the church.  Now enthroned at the right hand of the majesty on high, He has all power, dominion, and glory.  God will then turn man upside down.  His strength before Jesus Christ is declared to be worthless.  And Jesus Christ, in His power and in His glory, stands as the One who rules over all things, accomplishing the purposes of God.

     Then Mary says that God has turned upside down not only the wisdom and the strength of man, but also his riches.  For, she says, “and the rich he hath sent empty away.”  The word “rich” here is spoken in the moral sense—of those who would pride themselves as being better than others.  As the Pharisee of Jesus’ day would pride himself in his morality and would say, “We are the people of God.  We have done great things.  We deserve….  We have earned….  Look, we are of good stock.”  The rich here refer, then, to the self-righteous, to those who believe that by their own goodness they can attain to a right standing with God.

     But they too are put on their head.  They are turned upside down when they stand before the Christ-child.  For before this Christ-child they are declared to be sinners, whose own works cannot save them.  And, as long as they hold on to their self-righteousness, they go away empty from the Christ-child.  So long as you believe that of yourself you can attain your own salvation, that it is in your power, that you are better—so long as you see yourself as being better than someone else—you must go away empty from the Christ-child.  If you believe that you are basically OK, then you can have nothing in this Christ-child.  For this Christ-child declares in the gospel ( Rom. 3) that there is none righteous, no not one; all have gone astray; none seek after God.  This is why He has come—because His people have no merit, have no strength, have no ability to save themselves.  When this Christ-child is born, God is declaring concerning men, concerning you and me, that we, of ourselves, are empty, we are naked, we are undone sinners, we are empty-handed before God.

     This is what God declares in the birth of His Son.  Mary sees it.  Mary sees that man’s standards are turned upside down.  The wisdom, the power, and the moral riches of men, all of them, are shown to be nothing, absolutely nothing.  God alone must be the Savior—God alone in His wisdom, and power—and God alone, by His grace.

     So, in the gift of His Son, God has exalted the lowly.  In the sending of His Son, He has reversed the order of man.  He has overturned the apple cart.  Those blessed by the mighty Savior are those who are made to know the truth of themselves as foolish, hopeless, and unworthy sinners.

     That is the whole Bible.  I love the way I Corinthians 1:26-31 states that truth.  We read, “For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called.  But God hath chosen the … weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; … He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.”

     In Jesus Christ God gives true wisdom to the lowly.  In Jesus Christ He gives us to know the true condition of our heart as sinners.  Through faith in Jesus Christ we are given to know the true and the living God and the riches of His love and mercy, and that we are created now in Christ to serve God.  Then we are wise.  We are wise when we know God, when we know that our purpose, our only purpose, is to serve and to glorify God.

     Apart from Jesus Christ, you would not know this.  But God has sent His Son.  And this is the purpose of God’s sending His Son:  that you might be wise and know reality.  But God has also exalted His own strength.  He has shown that He is the God who, of grace, will come down to us who are of low degree, to us who are nothing of ourselves.  And He will, by the power of His grace in Jesus Christ, redeem us, making a perfect payment for all of our sins through the death of His own Son.

     So, in Jesus Christ, we receive the blessedness of righteousness, the assurance that God has put to our account the perfect innocency and the perfect obedience of His own Son Jesus Christ.

     This is what God has done in the gift of His Son.  This is why His Son was born—in order that man in all of his vaunted wisdom, vaunted power, vaunted wealth would be put low, shown to be nothing; and in order that God, and God alone, His grace, His mercy, His strength, be exalted in His Son Jesus Christ.  That God be declared great, and that man be declared nothing but a sinner who must be saved by pure, wonderful grace.

     Do you believe that?  Or are you too wise for that?  Are you too self-reliant?  Are you too filled with yourself—proud, powerful, and rich?  The way of the gospel of grace is that we are shamed over our own folly.  We are exposed to ourselves as naked, weak sinners.  We are shown to be empty-handed and void of all merit before God.  And then we see Christ, the power and the wisdom of God.  We see that in Christ God has exalted Himself in providing the way of grace, the way of salvation for the church.

     Embrace this Christ-child—this Christ-child who has turned man upside down—put man down and exalted God.  Blessed are all those who trust in Him, who are wise, by grace, exalted and filled with His grace.  Then bow at His feet and worship the Christ-child.

     Let us pray.

     Father, we thank Thee for the Word.  We ask for its entrance into our heart in this day.  We pray, O Lord, that we may ever be humbled before Him who took our flesh and was born that we might live.  In His name we pray, Amen.