The Richness of Having Nothing

  • Brian Overholtzer
Woman with her palms up

Poverty comes in all shapes and sizes. Some people are born into poverty while others find themselves there by unexpected tragedies. Another type of poverty is found in the depths of a person’s heart when either the person or someone the person loves is suffering. A common factor between both types of poverty is being in a state of lowliness. After Adam sinned in the Garden, God cursed man’s relationship to the earth and cast Adam and Eve out of the Garden where they would now be subservient to dirt (Genesis 3:15–19). 

While all people are subject to these types of poverty, there is a poverty that belongs only to God’s people – a humble posture that delights in the glorious benefits of Christ. At the beginning of Luke’s Gospel, he records the prayer of a woman who had nothing and everything at the same time. Mary, the mother of Jesus, treasured the great riches that belonged to her – the Glory of God in the present, in the future, and the past. All three realities of God’s glory are the themes of her magnificent prayer in Luke 1:46–55. 

Luke records Mary going through a “status shock” in the first chapter of his Gospel. She was aware of her position in society. She was a young woman living in a town whose name meant “branch.” Her people were subservient to Rome, their king wasn’t truly Jewish, and she lived in poverty. Hope was hard to come by in those days. Mary goes from this status to being told by the angel Gabriel, “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:31–33). 

This followed Mary visiting Elizabeth who further encouraged Mary exclaiming to her, “blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (Luke 1:45). In response, Mary praises God for how He is displaying His glory to her personally, how He will display His glory in the future, and how He has displayed His glory in the past. 

God’s Glory is on Display Now 

God’s glory was on display in Mary’s life in two ways. First is God’s relationship to Mary as the Glorious Savior and second is God’s provision of salvation in Mary’s life. 

God’s Relationship as the Glorious Savior

Many themes of soteriology emerge in the opening lines of Mary’s prayer. She exclaims that her soul magnifies the Lord, and her spirit rejoices in God who is her savior. Many commentators have noted that Mary’s opening lines echo a prayer spoken by Hannah in 1 Samuel 2. In the opening line of Hannah’s prayer, she magnifies the LORD which is the name, Yahweh. So when Mary uses the word “Lord” in her prayer, she is drawing attention to His name Yahweh. The name Yahweh draws attention to God’s relationship with His people as her personal savior.  

God’s Provision of a Glorious Salvation

God is the glorious savior of His people and in her prayer, Mary explains how God has personally brought this salvation in her life. She highlights four benefits of the Glorious Salvation given by God through Jesus Christ: His Electing love for His people, the incarnation of Christ, God’s perfect plan, and God’s unending mercy for His people. 

All these benefits are related and inseparable from one another. Surely the foundation of these benefits is God’s electing love for His people. Mary spoke of this electing love in reveling in her Savior who “has looked on the humble estate of his servant…” (1:48). The language of “looking on” brings out God’s predetermined decision to treat His people with favor. God looked on Mary because He already had a plan to miraculously intervene in her life. 

God’s predetermined plan to save his people included the sending of His Son Jesus Christ to be born into the world as truly God and truly man. When Mary exclaims “for he who is mighty has done great things for me…” (49), she is referring to the news the angel Gabriel told her that, “behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.” 

It could seem crazy that God’s plan to save His people and one day restore the heavens and the earth was being grown in her womb. Mary trusted in this plan because of one overarching reason: “His name is holy.” As Yahweh is holy and perfect, so is His plan of salvation. 

Finally, in this first part of Mary’s prayer, she draws attention to God’s never-ending mercy for His people. Mary speaks to this mercy that was present in her life and sets up for a transition in her prayer to speak to God’s continued mercy to Israel in the future. 

In her humble state, Mary realized she had everything that she could ever have needed. She saw herself being lavished by the many blessings of her relationship to God through Christ. Mary’s prayer brings hope to all God’s people. The answer to when you are at an end of yourselves is to revel in the rich benefits of God’s glory displayed in our lives through His Son, Jesus Christ. Mary owned and experienced riches even though she had nothing. 

Stay tuned for a future blog that looks at Mary’s second part of her prayer which confidently looks forward to God’s glory that will be displayed in the second coming of Christ.