Sunday School Lesson
Lesson 4 (KJV)
Expectant Mothers’ Faith
Devotional Reading: Philippians 4:10–19
Background Scripture: Luke 1:1–25, 39–45, 56–60
Luke 1:36–45, 56
36 And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren.
37 For with God nothing shall be impossible.
38 And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.
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.
56 And Mary abode with her about three months, and returned to her own house.
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.—Luke 1:41–42a
Faith That Pleases God
Unit 1: Profiles in Faith
After participating in this lesson, each learner will be able to:
1. Identify the relationship between the two expectant mothers.
2. Explain the significance of Elisabeth’s greeting.
3. Suggest one way that he or she can move closer to having a faith as one or both expectant mothers had.
How to Say It
Caesarea Maritima Sess-uh-ree-uh Mar-uh-tee-muh.
Hebron Hee-brun or Heb-run.
Thessalonians Thess-uh-lo-nee-unz (th as in thin).
A. Infectious Joy
Early in our marriage, my wife was not certain whether she ever wanted children. That was something I had to work through because I was certain that I did want children to be part of our family. I ultimately decided that I hadn’t married her for her ability to have children, and I had to leave the question in God’s hands. However, she was interested in birthing as a profession, and she completed her training to become a doula (a Greek word meaning “female servant”), which is a labor and birth support worker. This means she was with women having babies a lot.
My wife’s job had her working both with new parents and parents who were having their fifth or sixth child. In both cases, she witnessed a lot of pain but also the boundless joy of the parents as their babies were born. Her reluctance about having children changed, and now we have three. She desires more, saying that she would happily have six children if she could. This has even led us into looking at adoption. All of this happened because the joy of other parents was infectious.
In this lesson, we will see how joy can be infectious, from the unborn John the Baptist to his mother Elisabeth, to even the shared joy between Elisabeth and Mary.
B. Lesson Context
Early church tradition unanimously identified Luke, a physician and traveling companion of Paul, as the writer of the third Gospel and the book of Acts (Colossians 4:11–14). While the evidence is slim, there is a chance that Luke was the only Gentile author in the New Testament. Some scholars put the date of writing at around AD 60. This most likely occurred while Paul was imprisoned at Caesarea Maritima (as recorded in Acts 23:33; 24:27), which would have freed up Luke to interview the eyewitnesses of Jesus’ earthly ministry (Luke 1:1–3). The accuracy of the resulting research puts Luke in the company of the very best ancient Greek historians.
One of the eyewitnesses that Luke could have interviewed was Mary, the mother of Jesus. Such an interview would not be surprising, for the Gospel of Luke has more material regarding women than either of the other synoptic Gospels, Matthew and Mark. One example of this material unique to Luke’s Gospel is Jesus’ interaction with Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38–42. Another example is today’s text. As the text opens, the birth of the person who came to be known as John the Baptist has been foretold (Luke 1:5–25), as has been the birth of Jesus (1:26–35)—both by angelic visitation.
I. Acceptance of the Message
A. Encouragement to Believe
36. And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren.
The one speaking is the angel Gabriel, and the one being spoken to is Mary (Luke 1:26–27). Exactly how Elisabeth and Mary were related is not certain since the Greek word translated cousin simply means “female relative.” Although the birth of Elisabeth’s son, John the Baptist, had already been foretold, the news apparently didn’t reach Mary until this point, six months after the conception (compare 1:24). That conception was miraculous, given that Elisabeth had been through menopause (1:7, 18). She and her husband had been childless to this point, given the barren state of Elisabeth (compare and contrast Genesis 11:30; 25:21; 29:31; Judges 13:2–3; 1 Samuel 1:2).
There is uncertainty as to exactly how old John’s parents were. His father, Zacharias, was a priest, and priests were from the tribe of Levi. Levites had to retire at age 50 (Numbers 8:25; compare 4:46–47), but no specific age limit is found for priests. (All priests were Levites, but not all Levites were priests.) Thus we should not be surprised that Zacharias was still serving in his priestly role (Luke 1:8–9). Additionally, the high priest typically served for life (see Joshua 20:6).
This information about Elisabeth’s pregnancy would have strengthened Mary’s faith. It confirmed what the angel Gabriel had just said about the child Mary would be bearing.
37. For with God nothing shall be impossible.
This verse would have reminded the original reader of Abraham and Sarah’s struggle with infertility, for it is an allusion to Genesis 18:14: “Is any thing too hard for the Lord?” (See also Matthew 19:26; Mark 10:27.)
What Do You Think?
How does Luke 1:37 encourage your trust in God’s Word?
How does Jesus’ interpretation of Scripture in Matthew 4:1–11 inform your response?
B. Belief and Submission (v. 38)
38. And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.
Both the elderly priest Zacharias and the young virgin Mary asked the question, “How?” (Luke 1:18, 34). However, Gabriel’s responses to each of them differ. Zacharias asked skeptically for a sign—an inappropriate response from a person of his status. God responded with a sign, though probably not the kind Zacharias had expected (see 1:19–20). Mary’s reaction, on the other hand, was one of innocent inquiry, given her subsequent humility, as seen in the verse before us. She was willing to do whatever service that God would require of her. Young Mary’s faith surpassed that of an old priest! Mary’s faith can be compared and contrasted with Hannah’s (1 Samuel 1:10–20).
There is nothing in Gabriel’s response to suggest that God’s plan was contingent on Mary’s agreement with it. Even so, her statement of submission is important. In describing herself as a handmaid, Mary used a term that refers to servants (the same Greek word noted in the Introduction, above; also in Luke 1:48 and Acts 2:18). In so doing, so she expressed her intended obedience to the Lord.
II. Joyous Meeting
(Luke 1:39–45, 56)
A. Hope-Filled Journey (vv. 39–40)
39. And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda.
Mary lived in “a city of Galilee, named Nazareth” (Luke 1:26), while Elisabeth and her husband, Zacharias, lived in an unnamed city of Juda. The exact location of their home is unknown, but the hill country would have included the city of Hebron, which was given to the priests (see Joshua 21:11). A journey from one to the other would have been about 100 miles. The two villages were located in different areas that later would have different rulers (see Matthew 2:22; Luke 3:1). But, in the time of the event depicted in this verse, Herod the Great ruled both (see 1:5).
Hilly Juda is the district that included Jerusalem. If Hebron was not the unnamed city, then the trip would still be at least 35 miles, assuming that the city is at the northern tip of Judean territory. Either way, it’s a long trip by foot! Mary most likely made the trip with a caravan or a companion for safety. Luke indicates that Mary traveled to see Elizabeth with a sense of urgency that may reflect that difficult travels are more manageable in the early stages of pregnancy. The haste in which she did so seems to reflect her eager desire to see this wonder that the angel told her of.
What Do You Think?
What steps will you take to be a relative who your family can turn to during confusion, crisis, or need?
How will you improve your margin with time and money so that you can better help family members?
40. And entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth.
Luke made no mention either of distance or exhaustion. Instead, he focused on the interactions of those present. On entering the house, Mary began a normal exchange of greetings with Elisabeth; the word translated saluted occurs elsewhere in terms of normal greetings (examples: Romans 16:3, 6, 8, 11). There were several common greetings from that period, such as, “The blessing of Yahweh be upon thee,” or, “Be thou blessed of Yahweh,” or, “May peace be yours” (compare Luke 24:36; John 20:19–26). We don’t know which of these salutations Mary used, if any. Greetings in antiquity often included some type of kiss (examples: Exodus 18:7; 1 Thessalonians 5:26).
B. Blessed Be the Mother (vv. 41–44)
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.
While no details are given as to exactly when Mary became pregnant, time factors indicate that she was not far enough along to be showing. Even so, Elisabeth realized that her younger relative was with child when the two met, provoking a startling reaction!
There is nothing inherently unusual about a baby moving about in the womb, of course. But the timing of that reaction here is significant in view of the relationship that later emerges between Jesus (Mary’s child) and John the Baptist (Elisabeth’s child). The latter was to be “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). Even before his birth, John began to fulfill his role by signaling to his mother that the anticipated Christ, himself yet unborn, was present. At the same time, Elisabeth was filled with the Spirit to confirm the message Mary had received from the angel (next verse).
The Holy Ghost is a key figure throughout the Scriptures written by Luke. His Gospel and the book of Acts combined feature about 60 percent of the New Testament’s usages of this designation.
42. And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.
While Mary possibly would not have been showing as pregnant yet, her state was revealed to Elisabeth by the Holy Spirit. Not only that, but the identity of the child was also revealed to her. Elisabeth could not be silent concerning the events that were transpiring. She may have been in seclusion concerning her own pregnancy, but when the mother of the Lord shows up on her doorstep, Elisabeth became a loud proclaimer of the truth.
The word blessed occurs three times in today’s text: twice here and once in verse 45. However, different Greek words are behind the translations. The word behind the two instances of “blessed” in the verse at hand is also our English word eulogy. As we use that word today, we refer to statements 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 celebrate with praises,” or “to extol” someone, but not just at funerals. Elisabeth was speaking well of Mary while the latter was still very much alive!
Given the importance of this verse in certain religious circles, it is essential to note that these two statements do not speak to why Mary is blessed (but see Luke 1:45, below). We can note at this point that doubled expressions of blessing have precedent in the Old Testament (see Deuteronomy 28:3, 6; Judges 5:24).
What Do You Think?
What is one action you can take in the upcoming week so that others feel blessed when they are with you?
How does Galatians 5:22–23 affect your response?
43. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
Elisabeth was the first person to acknowledge Jesus as Lord, even though Jesus was still in Mary’s womb. In Scripture, the designation my Lord is used for both God and Jesus and is preferred by Luke. For comparative purposes, Mark uses the phrase my Lord 6 times, and Luke uses the designation 27 times! While it is uncertain precisely what Elisabeth understood by this address, the fact that she used it highlights her great faith that God was intervening in history. Elisabeth’s question is one of great humility as well as divinely given insight.
When the King Comes to Us
A king paid a surprise visit to the house of his servant and—to no surprise—left the servant befuddled. “Sir,” stammered the servant, “What are you doing here?” The servant’s question and confusion were understandable. Why would a royal leader show up at the home of a lowly hireling? Was the servant in trouble? Did he do something wrong?
“I wanted to get to know your situation firsthand and see what needs of yours I can meet,” replied the king.
For several minutes, the servant experienced a tidal wave of various emotions—inadequacy, gratitude, relief, joy, etc. Realizing his utter unworthiness to host the king humbled him. Do you, Christian, experience a similar range of emotions when you reflect on the fact that the Son of God put on flesh to meet us on our own turf? Are you no less amazed than Elisabeth at the arrival of God’s grace to us in Christ? If not, what deficit do you need to address in this regard? —D. D.
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 from verse 41, above, and adds for joy. John the Baptist’s prenatal reaction seems somehow to have reflected his sense of anticipation of the coming of the one who would give meaning to John’s mission.
Since Elisabeth was six months along in her pregnancy, the child in her womb was developed enough for Elisabeth to feel movement—and John the babe really moved! As John the Baptist would reflect on rejoicing at the hearing of the bridegroom Jesus’ voice some 30 years hence (Luke 3:23; John 3:29), so here John rejoiced at the hearing of Mary’s voice as she carried the unborn Jesus. And Elisabeth herself had some insight to discern that John’s movement was not arbitrary.
It is likely that the Spirit informed the unborn John who this was, and John leaped for joy. The whole reason for John’s existence was now here before him. The filling of Elisabeth by the Holy Spirit is what allowed her to discern what John’s sudden movement meant. She gave voice to the joy that the baby inside her felt.
John 1:29–34 reveals that it wasn’t anything about John himself that caused him to recognize Jesus. Instead, God informed him of Jesus’ identity, and the same must be true here.
C. Blessed Be Your Faith (vv. 45, 56)
45. And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.
Elisabeth stated that Mary was blessed first, not because of Mary’s identity, but because of with whom Mary was pregnant. This is very much the same sort of salutation that Gabriel gave to Mary when he first appeared to her (Luke 1:28).
The Greek word translated blessed here and three verses later is not the same word translated that way in Luke 1:42, above. The word under consideration here, occurring 50 times in the New Testament, will be the one that Jesus used later in pronouncing the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3–11). It carries the sense of “enjoying favorable circumstances” (compare its translation as “happier” in 1 Corinthians 7:40).
While the blessing of Luke 1:42 was based on the fact that Mary was to bear the Messiah, the blessing pronounced here is based on her faith (she that believed). Mary’s belief starkly contrasts the unbelief of the elderly priest Zacharias, father of John the Baptist (see Luke 1:5–20). Use of the word translated blessed usually includes a reason or explanation for someone to be regarded as blessed. We see such a reason here. Mary was blessed because she believed that there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.
What Do You Think?
What steps can you take to imitate Mary’s belief?
What distractions do you need to remove in order to do so?
The Greater Blessed
Jackie married her high school sweetheart, received an offer for her dream job, bought her dream house, and became pregnant in the same year. Every conversation she had with her friends resulted in the response: “You are so blessed!” Her sister, Jasmine, did not hear the same pronouncement nearly as often. Jasmine remained single and made less than half as much money as Jackie. But Jasmine was a Christian and a member of a church, while sister Jackie was not. Which of these two women was the greater blessed?
The answer to that depends on which lens you use in viewing their situations. Viewed strictly through a worldly lens, Jackie was the greater blessed; but viewed through the heavenly lens of eternity, the greater blessed is Jasmine. Which lens do you use to view your own status and situation?
Have you forgotten how blessed you are to believe in Christ? It’s easy to do in a world that casts God to the side and enthrones His gifts as gods themselves. But let Elisabeth’s pronouncements of blessing remind you of the true nature of blessedness. —D. D.
56. And Mary abode with her about three months, and returned to her own house.
The three months spent with Elisabeth were undoubtedly an additional blessing for Mary. Here was a safe place for this young woman to adapt to her changed situation as Elisabeth provided support. Mary also was undoubtedly a blessing to Elisabeth in return, as the older woman in the latter stage of her pregnancy probably needed the help of a younger person.
Since the six months of Luke 1:26, 36 plus the three months of the verse before us equals nine months, Mary would have left just before John’s birth or just after it. Relatives were at the naming ceremony (see Luke 1:58), and these could have included Mary. But ultimately, this is speculation—the text does not say.
What Do You Think?
What are some ways you can provide hospitality and support to expectant mothers?
How is James 1:27 relevant here?
A. Two Models, Two Paths
When it comes to belief and faith, I have often wondered whether I am more in the mold of Zacharias, with his doubts, than I am in the role of Mary, with her faith and acceptance. As I write this, there are multiple degrees in biblical studies hanging on my office wall, and I have 20 years of teaching experience at a Bible college under my belt. As a seasoned priest, Zacharias was similarly well-educated in the things of God. You would expect him to have the greater faith. But the greater faith is found with Mary.
Now I genuinely believe my education is a blessing and helps my faith. Yet there are times when I wonder whether my education distracts me from having faith like Mary’s. Perhaps we trust in our learning and understanding to figure things out rather than trusting God, and in so doing violate Proverbs 3:5–6: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” Mary wasn’t as formally educated as the learned priest. Yet, her belief was genuine. What Mary was asked to accept was not an easy thing, and God understood this. In encouraging Mary’s faith, the angel pointed her both backward to the story of Abraham and Sarah and forward to what was happening to Elisabeth. God may call you to a role similar to that of the angel as you point another person backward to a champion of faith and forward to an example of how God is now working.
The joy experienced by John the Baptist and Elisabeth resulted from Mary’s faith, at least in part. The ripple effect of this joy is also seen in passages such as Matthew 2:10 and Luke 2:10, 21–38 (contrast Matthew 2:3). That ripple effect reaches us here in the twenty-first century—or at least it should!
Lord, thank You for the example of Mary’s trusting belief. Show us how Mary’s example can inform our own faith. Help us move ever more toward belief and faith! Thank You for the encouragement of Your faithful people of the past as recorded in Your Word. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
C. Thought to Remember
Faith with obedience leads to great joy. Deluxe Edition). Into the Lesson Standard Publishing. KJV Standard Lesson Commentary® 2023-2024 (pp. 397-414). David C Cook.