The World Turned Upside Down
December 11, 2005 / No. 3284
Dear radio friends,
There are very few who celebrate Christmas the way the virgin Mary celebrated it. When she contemplated the coming of God’s Son into this world to be the only Savior, she exalted God and she saw the work of God in glorifying Himself alone.
We find her words recorded for us in the Scriptures in Luke 1:51-53. This is part of Mary’s “Magnificat,” her song of praise to God as she contemplates that she will be the mother of God in the flesh — the promised Savior. We read, “He 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.” Those words of Holy Scripture, as I said, are taken from the “Magnificat,” the song of Mary that burst from her heart after she heard Elisabeth greet her as “the mother of my Lord.” If you study Mary’s song as it is recorded in Luke 1:46ff., you will see that her song is saturated with the Old Testament Scriptures. All the words are taken from the Psalms and from I Samuel 2. And all of them are arranged in her heart after she has seen, by grace, into the heart of God’s purpose in sending His Son into the world. She sees that in the birth of Jesus, the promised Messiah, God shall bring down the proud and will exalt the lowly; that God will turn upside down the judgment of God. He will turn topsy-turvy the thinking of man. He will turn the tables on man. He will reverse man’s thinking. He will bring down the proud and He will exalt the lowly. We must see that today, too, if we are to truly rejoice in the birth of Jesus Christ.
There is no aspect of the gospel that is so distorted, twisted, and misunderstood than that of Christ’s birth and the reason for His birth. For many, if we were to ask the question: “What does it mean that Jesus Christ is born in Bethlehem,” they would respond, “Well, it has to do with some vague feeling of goodwill among men; some good cheer at this holiday season; some friendliness that ought to last for the entire length of the year.” Others would answer the question, “Well, this is a call for action among men. It is a call for no war and the abolishment of armaments and the call that all nations join together in one and become friendly.”
But Mary, the Holy Scriptures, and God Himself see it otherwise. Mary, in the words that I read, as she is inspired by the Holy Spirit, sees that the coming of Jesus Christ has to do with what God will do — that God is intent to cast down the proud, the mighty, and the rich, and that He shall exalt, by grace, the lowly, the weak, and the poor in spirit. It has to do with the fact that God will topple man in His pride and He will exalt His own love and grace in Jesus Christ. In the words that I read (Luke 1:51-53), Mary is seeing into the heart of it. She sees the coming of God’s Son, the Messiah, as the complete reversal of man’s thinking. The world will be turned upside down. Man shall be brought down. Sinful man shall be made low. God, and God alone, in His grace shall be magnified. That is what the coming of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem is all about.
Mary is given here a glimpse into God’s purpose in the sending of His Son via the virgin birth. It has become clear to Mary by the revelation of the Holy Spirit in her heart. By grace she has caught a glimpse of God’s purpose in the sending of His Son. The birth of Jesus Christ is, after all, the central moment in all the history of the world. It is the center. It is the most significant thing that has ever happened in the history of mankind. For this (namely, His birth) all else was before, and because of His birth all has been since. We read in Galatians 4 that in the fullness of time God sent forth His Son. The fullness of time, that is, the birth of Jesus, is the focal point of human history.
But what was God’s purpose? Why? What was in God’s heart when He gave His Son to appear on earth, born of a virgin, now in human flesh? It is this that Mary sees. Her eyes have been opened through the Old Testament Scriptures. And in a moment it becomes very clear to her. It becomes clear, not only the wonder that she was to be the virgin mother of the Messiah, that she was to be the human agent to accomplish God’s purpose. That in itself was staggering. But she realizes that the purpose was to bring honor and glory to God alone. She becomes very clear as to what God’s purpose is in the gift of His Son. God has done this to bring low man pride and to exalt His grace. It all, so to speak, comes together in her mind. And with a thrill in her soul she sees that God has turned on its head all of man’s notions of greatness, power, and riches; that God is bringing man low and exalting Himself highly; and that God, by the gift of Christ, is abasing human pride and magnifying His grace.
She may not have been able to express that truth in all of its wonderful theological truth. That clarity was to follow. But she saw what the apostle Paul saw, when he wrote, in I Corinthians 1, that the purpose of God is always that no flesh should glory in His presence, but that he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord. She sees the coming of Christ in theocentric terms. That word means “God-centered” terms. She sees that Christ’s birth has everything to do with God and how He shall glorify Himself.
So she says, “My soul doth magnify the Lord” in the gift of the Messiah.
This is what she says she saw first. She says that the coming of Christ into the world was entirely of God and of what God would do. We read, He hath shown the strength of His arm (or His might) — unaided, calling for none to help Him, resting satisfied in His own strength — God has brought this to pass.
Christmas is not about what man is going to do. It is all about what God has done. It is the record of His activity. It is the revelation of His glory. The Christmas gospel is not first the call to us to do something. It is not the call to be at your best, put into effect in society a spirit that will bring peace. Here is God’s Son, now what should we do? But the Christmas message is, first of all, a declaration of what God has done. He has exalted Himself. He has shown the strength of His saving grace.
Secondly, Mary sees the coming of Christ as something that is certain, bringing a sure salvation. We should note the tense in which Mary is singing. She sings in the past tense, as if it is an accomplished fact. She sings: “God hath showed His strength; He has scattered the proud; He hath put down the proud in their imagination; He hath filled the hungry.” All of those things were yet to be in the future. All the work of Jesus Christ was yet in the future — what He must yet do upon the cross and in the resurrection. Yet, she is speaking as if it has all been achieved. The child in her womb has just been conceived. She is in the very first months of her pregnancy. Yet, in her womb is the key to all the future. In her womb is the mighty God, the One through whom God has willed to triumph. She sees God’s purpose in Jesus Christ as certain and sure.
And the third thing that she sees is that God’s purpose in Christ is exactly to turn the world upside down — that there shall now be a complete reversal of man’s thinking, that man’s notion shall be turned down or reversed and God shall be exalted. The coming of Christ will cut across man’s thinking. The proud, the mighty, the rich shall be scattered, shall be brought low, shall be sent away empty. The exact opposite shall happen through the birth of Jesus than what man would think.
Mary sees that in herself. She refers to herself as a handmaiden, a slave-girl. There is the upside-down again of man’s thinking. Whom would we pick to be the mother of the Son of God in the flesh? We would look for the lofty, and for beauty, and for power, and for regal splendor. But God finds just a handmaid, an unknown little girl, a teenaged girl. God is going to bring man down and He is going to exalt His grace alone.
What was God doing in sending Jesus Christ into this world? What was He doing? He was turning men upside down. Everything that pointed up to man (his pride, his strength, his glory) God brings it all down. What points down to man (God, grace, sin/redemption) God turns that around and exalts Himself. The tables were turned on man’s estimations.
Note what Mary says. First of all, “He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.”
The imagination of the heart is a figurative expression for man’s pride, for his haughtiness, for his arrogance, when man thinks himself to be something. We find this expression often in the Scriptures. For instance, in Jeremiah 3:17 we find that there are men who walk after the imagination of their evil heart. That is for man to say, “We know, we can solve. Obedience to God is not the way. Submission to a Bible is not the truth. We can discover truth. We can make our own way.” That is when men begin to imagine themselves to be great. We are the experts. We are the brainy people. We are puffed up. We are proud of our learning and of our power. We begin to dream of how much we will be able to do. We will fantasize of our glory. In Jesus’ day the world was simply full of it.
We must not think that pride and great imaginations of what man can do are something original to our society. Oh, no. The Greek philosophers and their Roman followers (or clones) were all about that. The Greek philosophers said, “We are man, and we will put God on the table and we will dissect him.”
In the coming of God’s Son, God declares that He has scattered the proud in their imaginations. He has blown them away. He has exposed their folly. He declares that man, of himself, cannot know the truth, cannot solve his problem of sin unless God reaches down in grace and instructs him and gives him to believe Jesus Christ. He will remain in ignorance and in the darkness of his unbelief. God declares that man in his wisdom cannot save himself. Man in his wisdom is proud and he will not acknowledge that his problem is sin. He will say the reverse: Man is developing, man is improving, man will save himself. But God, in the gift of His Son, by giving His Son to be the sin-bearer in human flesh, has made them look silly in the coming of His Son. Man says, “We are sufficient. We know where we came from, we know where we are going.” And God gives His Son into the world and God says to man, “No, you do not. You cannot save yourself.” God says, “I can put the truth right before you, and you will reject it. You cannot find your way. I must bring salvation to you.” God has scattered the haughty. And the gift of Christ, that manger in Bethlehem, declares that man is fallen. He is foolish, he is blind, he is haughty, he is a dreamer. And only God’s Son in the flesh can bring him to light and salvation. The gospel sweeps away as dust all the philosophy of man. It throws it out the door and declares that there is one way to truth. And that is only through Jesus Christ.
But Mary says there is more. She says that God hath put down the mighty from their seats. Seats refer to thrones. It is a reference to the status of man, to his power. It is a reference to leaders of the world, to corporate executives, to politicians, to kings who boast of their power. God always brings down human power. Man says, “We will accomplish our agenda. We will rule, we will control, we will manipulate. We shall succeed.”
But in the sending of His Son, God puts down the mighty. He dethrones the mighty. He declares that all human might is vain and worthless. He declares that no matter how a man strives to accomplish his own ends, he is but flesh, he is but grass. He cannot do it. By the giving of His Son God declares that all power and all might is His and His alone; that He alone can be a Savior; that He has the might to save and none else. He declares that all are judged by Him, the living God, as sinners. And He alone has the way of salvation, freely by grace, in His Son.
Then, thirdly, Mary says that the rich hath He sent away empty. Rich, here, is in the moral sense, not the financial sense, but rich in the sense of those who pride themselves as being better than others and therefore can catch the eye of God.
In Jesus’ day it was the Pharisee who prided himself in his morality and who said, “We, we are the people of God. We have done great things. We deserve much more than others, for we are of good stock.” It refers to those who are self-righteous. When the self-righteous and the morally perfect stand before the Christ child in the manger, they go away empty. They go away sorrowful. Why? Because the coming of this Son declares to them that they are nothing but miserable, naked, filthy sinners. That there is none good, no not one. That unless Christ dies, all are damnable and cannot save themselves. They go away empty. Those who trust in themselves that they are righteous, that they are good in themselves, are sent away empty by the Christ child. For the Christ child declares that all are undone, naked, empty-handed sinners.
Oh, God has turned upside down man’s thinking in the birth of His Son. He declares now those who are blessed. The world says they are blessed who are wise, who are proud, who are powerful, who are influential, rich, and have many resources. And in the sending of His Son, God reverses that. He turns the applecart over. And He says that those who are blessed are the ones who are saved by this mighty Savior and who, therefore, are given to know, by God’s grace, that they are, of themselves, foolish and hopeless and unworthy sinners.
This is the whole Bible. The whole Bible declares that they are blessed who are by grace given to be made poor and contrite and broken sinners, whose trust is in this little child: Jesus Christ, the Savior. Is that true for you?
The blessing is found in these things first in Jesus Christ. God gives true knowledge and wisdom. He gives us to know God. Christ is given to bestow upon us the true knowledge of God in the heart. He is given to reveal it unto us. By faith in this Christ child, as our Savior from sin, we are made truly wise. We are given to know ourselves as hopeless sinners. We are given to know the excellency of the love and grace of Jesus Christ. Apart from faith you can know nothing. Only through faith in this Christ child do you know what man is: a sinner. Only then do you know what life is: Christ. Only then shall you know what the world is all about. Only by faith in this Christ child is there knowledge.
Secondly, in Christ God has exalted those who are of low degree. He has exalted those who belong to Him, those who are given that condemning knowledge of their own sin. He has exalted them in the sense that He has saved them from their sins. Your name might not appear on the New Year’s list of the great accomplished men or women of the world. But, if you are a son or daughter of God, if you belong to this Christ child, you are blessed. You are blessed in Him. You are exalted in Christ. You are a forgiven sinner, heir of life eternal.
Then, thirdly, Mary says that in Jesus Christ we are filled with righteousness. He hath filled the hungry with good things; the rich he hath sent away empty. Those who are morally complacent in themselves, who trust in themselves, find nothing in Christ. But those who are hungry, those who know themselves to be sinners, those who know themselves vile and cannot understand why God would have anything to do with them, those who confess with the apostle Paul that in their flesh dwells no good thing and who, therefore, go on to say with him, “Oh, wretched man that I am” (Rom. 7), they shall be filled. They shall be filled with Christ and His righteousness. This is why God sent His Son — to fill us up with salvation. The destitute, the empty, the hungry, the impoverished — they are filled with the grace of salvation in Christ Jesus. And God, and God alone, does this.
This is what God has done in the birth of Jesus Christ. This is what Christmas is all about. Do you believe this? Or are you too wise for these things, too self-reliant, too rich in yourself, too proud to bow before a manger, a dirty stable, an infant child — God in the flesh, the only way of salvation!
If that is true of you, that you are too wise, too self-reliant, too rich in yourself and you say, “Well, his coming is significant, it just shows us what we can do if we put our minds to it,” if that is your response, repent! Cast away the awful pride that is around your spiritual neck and that will choke you and damn you.
But, by grace, all those who embrace this child, who see themselves in shame for their pride, who see themselves as powerless to save themselves, indeed, naked, who see themselves as empty-handed and do nothing to save themselves but, by a wonderful grace, embrace this Child Jesus who is everything now to them, these are the ones whom God exalts. God says you are blessed in Him. You are blessed forever. You are made wise to know. You are exalted in the strength of the Lord. You are filled with His righteousness.
This is what God has done in the giving of His Son. Let us go to Bethlehem. Let us bow before Him there. And let us rejoice in the overflowing of God’s grace.
Shall we pray?
Father in heaven, we thank Thee for Thy Word. And we pray for its blessing today upon our hearts. May we truly worship this Christ child. May we not come to the stable with our own works, our own knowledge, our own pride. But may we bow before Thee and praise Thy marvelous grace. In Jesus’ name, Amen.