Did Mary Need a Savior?

by Spiros Zodhiates

Spiros ZodhiatesNever did the Virgin Mary claim to be the Savior of the world, either before or after the birth of her Son Jesus. In fact she confessed that she needed a Savior herself. This is the first statement she made in her hymn of praise to God, after her encounter with the angel Gabriel. It was on the occasion of her visit to her cousin Elizabeth, who knew that she was going to be the mother of the Messiah. Luke 1:46-47 tells us, "And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour."

This is a hymn that Mary sings to express her innermost convictions. Her first impulse, on learning that she was to become the mother of God's Son, was to praise God. Because the first word of this hymn is "magnify," this has always been known as the Magnificat. In Greek the word is megalnei, "to make great, to magnify, to deem great, i.e., to esteem highly, to extol, laud, celebrate," from the adjective megas, meaning "great." Although Mary simply states a fact here-that her soul magnifies God-as evidenced by the present indicative form of the verb, this statement also involves a prayer, a wish for her soul to exalt the Lord, to be filled with His greatness.

Mary was not dazzled or improperly excited by the prospects of her glorious future. She was not touched by vanity. After her encounter with the angel she said humbly and beautifully, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word" (Luke 1:38). Self had been brought under God's control, and God was all to her. The only way to be emptied of self as a goal or supreme value is to be filled with God. That is what happened to Mary. She might naturally have had every reason to feel proud, but she did not. Her only thought, on learning of her choice by God to become the mother of His Son, was of His greatness and not her own exalted position.

Suppose you and I had been in the place of the Virgin Mary: how would we have behaved? When our relatives spoke highly of us, as Elizabeth did of Mary, our first all-too-human reaction might be to thank them for the honor they did us. Their words would tend to turn our eyes not upward but inward in self-admiration. But it was not so with Mary. As Canon Liddon says, "She can only think of the contrast between her nothingness and His magnificence. If she glances for a moment at herself, it is to wonder that she should have been noticed at all by her Creator.... Whatever she has received has come from Him." (H. P. Liddon, The Magnificat, pp. 21,22.)

The Virgin Mary tells us that with her soul she magnifies the Lord and with her spirit she rejoices in God her Savior. What does she mean by soul and spirit? Why mention both in the same breath? It is true that soul and spirit are sometimes used to indicate man's immaterial being, but there is often a distinction of emphasis between them. Correctly defined, "soul," when denoting man's immaterial self, emphasizes what we have in common with the animal world. It sometimes stands for life or the element of life that animates matter. It is that aspect of the immaterial self that usually connects us only with the natural world, that is, it is the seat of our affections. But "spirit" is that window in our personality, that aspect of the self, that opens upward, connects us with our Creator. In the Greek, "soul" is psyche, from which we derive such words as "psychology." The adjective psychikos, as in 1 Corinthians 2:14, is translated "carnal." Psycheor "soul" is that aspect of the self which is usually much closer to the body and the physical self than it is to God.

How, then, did Mary magnify the Lord with her soul? What she really meant was that her affections, those impulses that are close to the body and may even control its actions, were also fully occupied by the greatness of God. In her relations with other human beings, it is God who is everything and not herself. Ask yourself: Whom do I exalt most in my relations with others?

The tenses of the verbs in this first statement of the Magnificat are significant: "My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour." "Doth magnify" is in the present tense, but the Greek verb egalliasen, "hath rejoiced," is in the first aorist active indicative tense of the Greek verb, referring to something that is past. It is as though Mary were proclaiming, "Now my soul magnifies the Lord, but before that happened something else had already happened in my life: my spirit had rejoiced in God my Savior."

She does not tell us the details of her salvation, but she tells of the results of that experience, the rejoicing that accompanies receiving the life of God in one's innermost being. God is a Spirit, and it is through our spirits that we know Him. God was Mary's Savior in two senses: 1) in the general sense of salvation from sin, and 2) in the particular sense of being her preserver and deliverer during the difficult days from her miraculous conception to the sad day when she stood at the foot of the cross, and her crucified Son commended her to the care of John the Beloved.

The verb used to express Mary's rejoicing as a result of her salvation is not the usual chairo, but egalliasen, which is related to the substantive agalliasis, meaning "jubilation, fullness of exultation, the greatest joy." And indeed there can be no greater joy for anyone than the deliverance of God when you know the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior. This is a definite transaction, occurring at a particular time. That is why Scripture uses the aorist tense to refer to Mary's salvation. At a definite time in the past she had been saved from sin. She then began to rejoice over her salvation. It was only as a result of this redemption and ensuing joy that she learned to praise God.

No one can acceptably sing praises to God without first knowing Him as Savior and Lord. Christianity was ushered in with singing. Mary burst into a hymn of joyful praise, as did the heavenly host when they announced the birth of Christ to the shepherds. Mary now realized that God is not merely an Almighty Being to be feared, as He was so often regarded in Old Testament times, but that He is above all a Savior. "And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour" (Luke 1:47).

Mary recognized that salvation through the Lord Jesus brings a very special joy with it. It is different, permanent, an inner joy that nothing can steal away. Unless you have experienced it, you cannot even begin to imagine it.

From Dr. Zodhiates' book, The Song of the Virgin, ©1973. Published by AMG Publishers.

Dr. Zodhiates is president emeritus of AMG International and publisher emeritus of Pulpit Helps.

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