In my first year at university, aged eighteen, I read the entire New Testament in a week – from Matthew to Revelation – and became convinced, ‘It is true’. But I was reluctant to follow Jesus, as I thought my life would be very dull and that I would have to give up all enjoyment. In fact, it was the exact opposite. I found something even better than happiness. We all want to live happy lives. ‘Happiness,’ wrote Aristotle, ‘is the meaning and purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.’ But there is something even better, greater and deeper than happiness. Happiness is dependent on what happens – our circumstances. Joy is far deeper and is not so dependent on our outward circumstances. It is a blessing from God. Joy is the characteristic of an encounter with Jesus even in his mother’s womb (Luke 1:44). Today’s New Testament passage uses a Greek word that we translate ‘blessed’. It means to be the privileged recipient of *God’s favour*, and to be fortunate and happy because of it. The Amplified Bible describes it as being ‘happy, to be envied, and spiritually prosperous – with life-joy and satisfaction in *God’s favour* and salvation, regardless of their outward conditions’ (Matthew 5:3, AMP).
Praise God for all his favour
In the last thirty-five years, Pippa and I have travelled all over the world. Sometimes we are offered some quite unusual looking food that we have never eaten or even seen before. Often it turns out to be delicious. There is only one way to find out – to ‘taste and see’.
David says, ‘Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him’ (v.8). That is what I experienced as I began to follow Jesus. Ever since, it has been my desire to get that message out to as many people as I can, and say to them, ‘Join me in spreading the news; together let’s get the word out’ (v.3, MSG).
Like David, praise God for all the favouryour relationship with God has brought to your life. Praise God ‘at all times’ (v.1) not just when things are going well or it is convenient to do so: ‘I bless God every chance I get; my lungs expand with his praise. I live and breathe God; if things aren’t going well, hear this and be happy’ (vv.1–2, MSG).
Praise God for:
1. Answered prayer
David writes, ‘I sought the Lord, and he answered me’ (v.4a). God helped him in times of trouble, ‘When I was desperate, I called out, and God got me out of a tight spot’ (v.6, MSG).
2. Freedom from fear
David continues by explaining exactly how God had answered his prayers in this instance: ‘he delivered me from all my fears’ (v.4b).
Those who fear God are delivered from all their fears. ‘Fear [of] the Lord’ (v.9a) is the equivalent of ‘seeking the Lord’ (compare verse 9b, ‘those who fear himlack nothing’ with verse 10b, ‘those who seek the Lord lack no good thing’).
David does not say we will lack nothing, but he does say, ‘Those who seek the Lord lack no good thing’ (v.10b). Or as The Message puts it, ‘Worship opens doors to all his goodness’ (v.9b, MSG).
3. Radiant faces
One of the things I noticed, even before I was a Christian, was the radiant expression on the faces of many Christians. ‘Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame’ (v.5).
4. Angelic protection
‘God’s angel sets up a circle of protection around us while we pray’ (v.7, MSG). It’s an amazing thought that as you pray and worship God you experience angelic protection.
‘All enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise,’ wrote C.S. Lewis. ‘… delight is incomplete till it is expressed.’
Lord, thank you that you promise to deliver me from all my fears. Thank you that your angel sets up a circle of protection around me as I pray. Lord, I thank, praise and worship you today.
Believe God’s promises of favour
Mary was ‘highly favoured’ (1:28). The angel said to her ‘you have found favourwith God’ (v.30).
This passage is full of celebration, as Elizabeth and Mary recognise the ways in which God has favoured them.
Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, sings of Mary: ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favoured, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?… Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!’ (vv.42-45).
The emphasis on Mary’s faith is significant, as many people would have responded very differently to the situation. God’s favour did not mean that all Mary’s problems disappeared – she was pregnant and unmarried in a culture where that would have caused all kinds of difficulties.
Yet she chooses to recognise the ways that God has blessed her. She picks up on Elizabeth’s greeting and sings the song that has become known as the ‘Magnificat’. In it she ‘rejoices in God my Saviour’ (v.47) for all the ways in which he has ‘done great things for me’ (v.49).
In some ways the favour on Mary is unique: ‘Blessed are you among women’ (v.42a). Mary is:
1. The mother of the Lord
Mary carried in her womb the Son of God, Jesus the blessed one (v.42b). When Elizabeth comes into the presence of the foetal Jesus she is ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’ (v.41). ‘Joy’ is the characteristic response to Jesus – even the baby ‘leapt with joy’ in the womb (v.44).
2. Recognised for all future generations
‘From now on all generations will call me blessed’ (v.48). Mary has been known as ‘the Blessed Virgin Mary’ ever since.
Jesus’ DNA came from a combination of Mary and the Holy Spirit. He was the genetic son of Mary. He must have looked like her. He must have had some of her physical features. She brought him up. She trained and taught him. For thirty years she was the dominant female influence on his life.
3. The pinnacle of faith
‘Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfil his promises to her!’ (v.45). Mary believed that what the Lord said to her – something unique and humanly impossible – would happen. As the angel had said to Mary, ‘Nothing is impossible with God’ (v.37).
For Mary, what God had promised was as good as done: ‘For the Mighty One has done great things for me’ (v.49). Corrie ten Boom said, ‘Faith sees the invisible, believes the unbelievable, and receives the impossible.’
Of course, in many ways, Mary was unique. Yet in some ways the favour she talks about can apply to you and me. You are blessed by a saviour (‘God my Saviour’, v.47). The promise to fill the hungry with good things (v.53) – the promise of God’s favour to satisfy your spiritual hunger with his provision – applies to you and me.
Lord, thank you for Mary’s extraordinary faith: that she believed you could do what was humanly impossible. Like Mary, I want your favour to lead me to worship you.
Experience now the favour of God’s presence
These events took place ‘at the time the Lord talked with Moses’ (3:1). What was once a special favour for Moses is now open to us all. You can experience the favour of God talking with you.
Enormous care had to be taken because of the huge responsibility and great blessing of God’s presence being in the midst of his people. The ‘Tent of Meeting’ (where God’s presence dwelt) was ‘set out in the middle of the camps’ (2:17). Everyone was given a role and a responsibility. In particular, a certain group of people were ordained (the Levites) to full-time ministry. They were ‘ordained to serve’ (3:3); they were ‘given wholly’ to God (v.9).
The life of God’s people literally revolved around the presence of God. It was the key to their identity, their success and their favour.
But here we see that God’s presence with his people was also limited. The people were barred from the sanctuary (v.10), the heart of God’s presence. The extraordinary message of the New Testament is that this separation has now been removed.
You can now experience the full favour of God’s presence with you. This theme of the blessing of God’s presence is a recurring one throughout the Scriptures. Jesus brings God’s presence to us (John 1:14a). Jesus has given you the Holy Spirit, who is God’s empowering presence dwelling within you (1 Corinthians 6:19). We experience God’s presence especially when we gather together (Matthew 18:20). One day you will know God’s presence face to face (Revelation 21:3, 22:4).
Lord, thank you so much for the blessing of your presence and your favour. As you did with Moses, please talk with me today.
It is good to have someone a little further on who journeys with us in life. God didn’t leave Mary alone to carry this extraordinary revelation; he gave her Elizabeth. They must have been a great encouragement to each other, both pregnant in miraculous circumstances, knowing that their sons were coming into the world to achieve some astonishing mission from God (and one of them was God!).
Corrie Ten Boom, *Jesus is Victor*, (Fleming H. Revell Company, 1984). C. S. Lewis, *Reflections on the Psalms*, (Fount, 1993) pp.94–95. Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790. Scripture quotations marked (AMP) taken from the Amplified® Bible, Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org) Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.