Dear Radio Friends,
Malachi was the last prophet of the Old Testament. After his prophecy the scriptural record is silent. 400 years had transpired since this last prophecy. God had not spoken through the mouths of prophets during this time. Just silence. The spiritual condition of the nation of Israel had declined until the nation was thoroughly engulfed in worldliness. The sect of the Pharisees attempted to restore Israel to the keeping of the Mosaic law. But this sect, in reaction to the worldliness of the day, went to the opposite extreme and became legalistic. During the inter-testamentary period many wars were fought. Palestine became the playground of the powerful nations that surrounded this land. The history of the church was dark. As usual, the question could again be asked: would the true church survive? But it had to: Christ was not yet born. God always preserved to Himself an elect remnant of grace that looked for redemption from sin.
Then suddenly, with no warning, an angel appeared to the aged priest Zacharias informing him of the birth of a son. This son would be the forerunner of Christ and therefore would prepare the way for His coming. The miracle announced by this angel is found in the fact that Zacharias and his wife Elisabeth were both very old. Elisabeth was beyond the age that women could bear children. She also had been barren her entire life. But at the appointed time, Elisabeth became pregnant and was now six months along.
Elisabeth appears as the first woman of faith in the New Testament Scriptures. The next woman is Mary, the mother of Jesus. In the sixth month of Elisabeth’s pregnancy, an angel appeared to Mary and announced that she was going to give birth to the long-awaited Messiah. Mary hurried to the house of Elisabeth to inform her of the news, and it is then that the event we consider today took place. We read in Luke 1:39-45,
And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Judah; And entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth. 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: And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.
In this event we will consider the Word of God regarding our Savior. While doing so we will need to examine the faith of this godly woman who now prophesies concerning Jesus. We will note Elisabeth’s place in the history of the church of Jesus Christ. But this time we will be studying a woman of the New Testament, the age of fulfillment. Actually, Elisabeth stood between the Old and New Testaments, since the event of our text occurs prior to the birth of our Savior. Bearing that in mind we take as our theme today,
I. Filled with the Spirit
Elisabeth was the daughter of a priest. Luke informs us in verse 5 of chapter 1 that she was of the daughters of Aaron. It was natural that she would end up marrying a priest. Luke also informs us in verse 6 that Zacharias, Elisabeth’s husband, and she were “both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.” The announcement of the angel to Zacharias that he and Elisabeth would have a son in their very old age took place in the temple. Zacharias was fulfilling his work as a priest in the temple by offering incense there. But Zacharias and Elisabeth did not live in Jerusalem. When he was finished with his “tour of duty” in the temple they returned to their home in the hill country of Judah.
We cannot be certain of the exact location, but it is conjectured that this hill country of Judah was south of Jerusalem near the city of Hebron. Whatever the case, when we read in verse 39 of our text that Mary made haste to visit Elisabeth, it was not in Jerusalem. She traveled to Elisabeth’s private home. The question is: why would Mary, who lived in Nazareth in Galilee, decide to visit Elisabeth, who lived in the south of Judea? It is true that Elisabeth was a relative. The Kings James Version says that Elisabeth was Mary’s cousin. But it is more than likely that Elisabeth was an aunt, since she was an old lady and Mary was just a young girl. This would mean that Mary’s father, who was of the tribe of Judah, had married Elisabeth’s sister, who was of the tribe of Levi. But why would Mary visit this elderly relative? Because the angel who had announced the miraculous conception in Mary’s womb told Mary about Elisabeth and what had happened to her. For that reason, Mary immediately rushed off to visit Elisabeth in order to tell Elizabeth of the miraculous conception of her own son.
Elisabeth had no way of knowing Mary was paying this visit to her. They did not have telephones or text messaging in those days. Mary did not send word ahead, but made haste, leaving immediately after hearing word of her own conception. Now Mary stands at the door of Elisabeth’s house, knocks, and enters. She salutes Elisabeth. In other words, she gave greetings to Elisabeth. “Hi, Elisabeth. I’m Mary, your relative from Nazareth of Galilee!” We read in verse 41, “And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb.” Elisabeth was six months along in her pregnancy with John. Mary had already conceived in her womb the Christ child—two expecting mothers standing face to face. The moment that Elisabeth heard the voice of Jesus’ mother, John leaped in her womb. He did not just give a kick as babies do. He leaped. He stirred an turned in her womb, something that Elisabeth immediately noted as abnormal. Take note that the babe, or baby, leaped in her womb. The Bible does not say the fetus jumped in her. The term for baby in the Greek refers to a child, either an unborn child or a newborn child. But it refers to a child. Abortion is the murder of unborn children. Unborn babies are not just fetuses but are, in fact, children—howbeit unborn as yet.
Our text informs us that Elisabeth was filled with the Spirit and then spoke. But we can say the same of her unborn baby. Elisabeth ascribes this leap of her baby as a miracle. In verses 43, 44 she ascribes this leap of John within her to hearing the voice of the “mother of her Lord.” In other words, the Spirit filled her unborn baby so that he was able miraculously to recognize that he was in the presence of the Messiah. The Spirit filled John at that moment. This is evident from the words of the angel to Zacharias in the temple prior to the birth of John. We read of John, in Luke 1:15, that “he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb!” John was filled with the same Spirit who filled Elisabeth—that Spirit by which she was able to prophesy.
It is safe to conclude from this that the work of the Holy Spirit is not limited to adults. It is not true to say that the Spirit can work only in a developed mind, so that the recipient of the Spirit must be able to understand the work of the Spirit first. The Spirit certainly can and often does work in the heart of an unborn child, regenerating him and grafting him into Jesus Christ. An infant is always born dead in sins and trespasses. This is true of every child born into this world. Parents pass on to their children the loathsome disease of sin. But oftentimes in the generations of believers the Spirit works immediately in the heart of an unborn baby making it capable of believing in Jesus Christ because the power of faith has been worked in him. No doubt this leap of John in Elisabeth’s womb was a miracle, but certainly he would not have leaped for joy if the Spirit had not been working in him. And certainly he would not have leaped for joy when hearing through Elisabeth the voice of the mother of His Lord if the Spirit had not regenerated him. The work of regeneration—rebirth—can take place even prior to our first birth through our mothers. That determination is made by God, or by Jesus Christ who sends forth His Spirit to dwell within us.
But verse 41 of our text takes note that Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke prophetic words. The Spirit of prophecy came upon her and she now explains the conception of the Messiah in Mary— even before being told that Mary was expecting! Mary had just said hello to Elisabeth and perhaps introduced herself—nothing more. John leaped at Mary’s salutation, and Elisabeth immediately began to speak. “Whence is this to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” News of the events that had transpired in Nazareth had not made their way to the hill country in Judea. Elisabeth had no way of knowing that Mary was pregnant, much less that she was going to give birth to the promised Christ. Neither had Elisabeth heard the message of the angel to Mary announcing that she was to be the mother of Christ. Yet, in verse 45 we find Elisabeth prophesying that those things that had been declared to Mary through the mouth of the angel would be performed—almost as if Elisabeth were there and heard the message of the angel. Elisabeth was given this knowledge by the Spirit as soon as she felt John leap for joy within her. But did she know that Mary’s baby boy was the Christ? The title she gives Mary, “the mother of my Lord,” indicates she did. This prophecy of Elisabeth therefore was a revelation of who Christ is as well as the inspired word of the Spirit to us who believe.
In fact, Elisabeth was a step ahead of the rest, who had yet to learn that Jesus Christ is Lord. This title of Jesus was something Christ would earn through His death and resurrection. By means of His death, Jesus would conquer sin and Satan. He would overpower His and our enemies. He then would be exalted at the right hand of God to rule over all nations and over His church by His Spirit and Word. Elisabeth confesses, before Christ is even born, what every person in this world—elect and reprobate alike—will admit when Jesus Christ comes again at the end of time. That Christ is Lord means He is sovereign ruler of all things in heaven and on earth.
Elisabeth confesses even more, however, when she says that this baby born of Mary was her Lord. This means that this baby was the Master and Ruler of her life. She was His servant to do His will. She confesses that Christ would conquer her sin and that she belonged to Him both in life and death in body and soul. So Elisabeth’s confession is very personal—just as is our confession. This same Jesus, we confess by the power of the Spirit in us, is our Lord. We belong to Him and are called to serve Him in love. We find in Him our all. He is our salvation and He will come again to deliver us from our enemies. As our exalted Lord He sits in the heavens and rules over us, His church, in His grace and by His Spirit and Word. Elisabeth’s confession therefore is our confession.
II. Pronouncement of Blessing
But there is something else about this prophecy of Elisabeth that must not be overlooked. Both in verse 42 and again in verse 45 Elisabeth pronounces a blessing on Mary. But the term “blessed,” used twice in verse 42, is different from the term translated “blessed” in verse 45. In verse 42 Elisabeth pronounces: “You are the most blessed of women! You above all women in this world are the object of God’s blessing.” Upon Mary, God bestowed His divine favor. For thousands of years women had hoped to give birth to the Savior. Now, Mary receives this special honor from God. In that way she was blessed.
She was blessed because the fruit of her womb was blessed. Christ was most highly favored of God. The fruit of Mary’s woman was the very Son of God made flesh. Upon Him God’s favor and blessing rested from the moment of His conception to all eternity. He is God’s beloved Son in whom God is well pleased. This was His particular honor and glory. In this way He was blessed of God. As a result, Mary was most highly honored. The angel said to her in Luke 1:28, “Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee: blessed are thou among women.” Elisabeth, under the inspiration of the Spirit, repeats this message to Mary before even learning that Mary was pregnant. Certainly, this was a confirmation to Mary of the words spoken to her by the angel. She needed that. I mean, at this very early stage of her pregnancy, how could Mary even fully know that the words the angel had spoken had come to pass?
But now in verse 45 Elisabeth repeats, “blessed is she that believed.” This is not mere repetition, as we noticed. The word for “blessed” here means “happy.” Happy is she that believed.” The word happy is bandied about in our modern English in such a superficial way. The phrase is often heard, “As long as it makes you happy.” People will say, “I am so blessed,” when they have money and comforts or life is going well for them. But that is not the idea of the happiness of blessedness expressed here in this verse. It is the idea of the Heidelberg Catechism when the question is asked: what three things ought one to know, that he can live and die happily? The answer is: I know my sins and misery, I know my deliverance in Christ, I know how to live a life of gratitude to God. This knowledge is what makes a person truly happy. It gives peace of heart and joy. Elisabeth declares: Blessed is Mary, who believed. Mary is highly favored of God and in that way blessed of Him. But Mary is also declared happy. She would be given peace and joy in her heart. Why? Because she believed the words of the angel to her. She had said, “Be it unto me according to thy word!” She believed that she was to be the mother of Christ. She trusted that everything the angel told her would come to pass. And that knowledge and trust— that faith—would give her a joy and peace that no earthly treasure or pleasure could ever provide. This is the same blessing that rests upon all those who believe.
Is that not true, fellow believers? To know that in life and death we belong to our faithful Savior; to know that nothing will ever separate us from the love of God in Christ; to trust that whatever God sends us in this valley of tears He will turn to our advantage because of the fruit of Mary’s womb—that is what gives us true blessedness in this life! Blessed are we who also believe! Mary believed that everything the angel told her would come to pass. We believe because we are now given to see that everything told her did come to pass!
This is the conclusion of Elisabeth’s inspired revelation: “for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.” We bear in mind that the angel explained much more to Mary than merely that she was going to give birth to the promised Christ. The angel explained to her that her son was to be the very Son of God. He explained that He would be a son of David and would rule over Israel forever. None of this Mary would be given to see with her eyes. She would see her son killed and buried. She would see Him rise from the dead. She would never understand in her lifetime the full implication of Christ’s rule as Lord. But she believed. And it is in this that we believe too, even though we have not yet seen the final step in Christ’s exaltation. In that day too we will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God. Indeed, there has been a performance of those things that were told Mary. There will be a performance of those things foretold as well. Blessed is Mary, and blessed is everyone who believes in this Christ.
III. A Humble Recognition
One more truth of this godly woman Elizabeth. In verse 43 she humbly recognizes that she is unworthy of such a visit from the mother of her Lord. Why would the mother of the Lord, the Savior, the Ruler of all, the Master, come to see me? Why would the promised Christ come to see me, the sinner that I am? This is what Elisabeth recognized concerning herself. What about us? What wondrous grace that God would visit you and me with salvation! We who are undeserving of such. We who are so unworthy of being visited from on high. We have come to know our sin. We know that we deserve only punishment for what we have done against the most high majesty of a holy God. Why would God condescend in His grace to give to us salvation full and free. Yet He has given that to His people. The Savior has come to earth to save sinners. He has come to save His people from their sin. For this we give Him thanks. In gratitude we humbly bow before our Savior and confess that He is Lord.
Mary stayed with Elisabeth for three months before returning to Nazareth. At the end of that time Elisabeth gave birth to John. A half a year later, Mary gave birth to Jesus. John became the one who prepared the way for the Savior. May the confession of Elisabeth, this woman of faith, be ours as we commemorate the birth of our Savior in this time of the year.