WEAPONS MASTER CLASS Luke #4
Mary’s visit to Elizabeth in Judea
39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea,40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leapt in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice, she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favoured, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leapt for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfil his promises to her!”
46 And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, 48 for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me— holy is his name. 50 His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. 51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. 52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. 53 He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful 55 to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.” 56 Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home.
As we survey the gospel stories to find out how battles are to be fought, it is crucial to notice incidents like this one. If I was going to categorise this story of Mary visiting Elizabeth, it presents us with an opportunity to see such a fulness of grace from heaven happening that the enemy has minimal or no chance to intervene. I am sure there are many of these occasions. I remember Suzette Hattingh talking about the impact of a Reinhard Bonnke crusade in Africa. She said that the focus of prayer and the faith of a united church coupled with the presentation of the gospel saw amazing miracles happening and tangible transformation. One of the challenges they observed was to see the impact wane after a period of time. She said it was as if the resident demons all left town for a while, but then found ways of returning. Jesus taught about this in a straightforward way when he talked about demons being cast out and then returning with a bunch of mates to make the latter situation worse than the former.
That would not be the case concerning Mary visiting Elizabeth. She went because the angel had told her that Elizabeth was pregnant. When two people who have experienced such a wonderful measure of grace from heaven get together, divine sparks are bound to fly. The little six month formed baby leapt in Elizabeth’s womb. On could hardly imagine a more powerful prophetic act. John the Baptist’s whole purpose was pointing people to Jesus. His life’s work was to bear witness to him – even before he was born. Such was the abundance of Holy Spirit presence.
Then what was inside of Elizabeth overflowed as she made a prophetic declaration, testifying that the baby Mary would bear was the Messiah, whom she called her Lord. Humbled by what was happening in her presence, she honoured Mary for her trust in what the angel had said. This led to further flow of revelation.
The overflow of prophetic utterance is both exciting and instructive. I think it represents important universal principles about the working of the Spirit in our lives. If you read it slowly and think about what Elizabeth is saying we realise that the Holy Spirit is taking what she is experiencing (her story) and putting it in the context of the big story. God has poured out divine favour on her, even though in the status stakes she doesn’t finish anywhere near the top of the bill. She now realises that God is not just giving her and Zechariah a wonderful baby boy and removing their shame (the disgrace for her was much greater since guilt was more readily placed on the woman than the man). Her boy will herald the coming of the Messiah. Then she realises that what is going on will be told and retold for that reason.
In the second part, she declares the difference between the ways of God and the ways of earthly kingdoms. God has typically bypassed all of the people who may represent likely candidates by the values of the kingdom of this world, especially all of those who may presume to be shortlisted for a divinely appointed task. He has taken two unknown women from way down the pecking order and has drawn them into his divine purpose. The choosing of unlikely candidates is a consistent theme in Scripture. The danger for us is to get one part of that picture and miss the other. Yes, it is true that God chooses nobodies to do important kingdom tasks. But it is not just any nobodies. These “nobodies” are chosen because they are people whose willingness to trust God knows no limits. Both Elizabeth (and Zechariah) and Mary (and Joseph) have been called to walk a journey of faithfulness to God that had and would cost them plenty. It has and will always be the same regardless of the generation or culture.
The third section of Elizabeth’s prophesy ties what is happening in the big story. It is about God’s purpose for Israel, not just about two baby boys being born. It also bears the testimony of the Scripture record. This is consistent with the old testament promises of God recorded over centuries by prophets and others who have listened to God. In other words, what is being spoken ties the current events into God’s big story: the redemption of the world. True prophetic revelation will always do just this.
So, as far as battle lines are concerned, there are none. We see no evidence anywhere of the enemy having access to what is going on. What we see instead are two people following through a brace of invitations from heaven to play a profoundly significant part in the plan of God. They qualified because they chose to be faithful and open to God before an angel showed up. They further qualified when they fully embraced the calling described by the angel, and now they were discovering that this plan involved other people whose testimony and faith would enable them to see and embrace that bigger picture. There is something sad about people who choose to put up fences and barriers everywhere to limit the purposes of God in their lives. Our broken culture keeps assuring us that we are masters of our own space and rulers of our own destiny. We program both the work of the Spirit and the application of the Scriptures so that it conforms to our own preferences and predetermined priorities. This allows us to develop church congregations that are corporate expressions of those limitations. As the process is allowed to continue, we find ourselves building religious structures around those barriers and borders. Both the kingdom and the purpose of God lie beyond the borders we set up. We can worship, pray and engage in all kinds of activities that are carefully (but less and less consciously) designed to accommodate us. We wonder why our prayers are so impotent, why enemy attacks are so brazen and our gatherings so devoid of Holy Spirit power.
By contrast, these two women embraced a single message from heaven and offered themselves to journey to its fulfilment. As such, they were opened to Holy Spirit revelation and a world that was beyond anything they had ever thought about. When Jesus talked about the meek inheriting the earth, his message applied fully and directly to these women. As they met and stayed together in the hill country of Judea their friendship, lifestyle and faith commitment rendered the enemy powerless. To be sure, the day would come when there would be another attack, but while these two babies were being formed in the wombs of their hero mothers, there was no opportunity. Instead, profound downloads of revelation by the Spirit – as is evidenced here and wait, there’s more.
A few years ago I was making a slow journey through the Psalms. I would take a single Psalm to my place of prayer and read it enough times to get the story. Then I would pray my way through using the inspiration before me. It was a wonderful journey, and I was very powerfully impacted. Not only were there amazing moments and encounters but the experience transformed me. One of my summary insights was to see the link between “The Harp and the Sword.” That was my way of describing David’s intercessory experience. At the time I was influenced a lot by a prayer movement that had taken a phrase from the Book of Revelation: “Harp and Bowl.” Their wonderful approach to intercession involved a focus on worship (harp) and prayer (bowl). My observation from the experience of David, and later, Jesus and Paul was the way intercession was seamlessly connected to the ministry of the gospel and I was worried that the prayer movement was capable of producing people who prayed and worshipped but didn’t seem to be so keen to get out and do the work of the gospel. It seemed to create a false dichotomy so that pray-ers didn’t seem to be very committed to ministry and those doing the work of ministry didn’t seem to be much involved in intercession. We saw two tribes emerge and even the idea that there was a special calling to be an “intercessor.” This has no warrant in either old or new testaments.
So I figured that David (then, Jesus and Paul) had a “Harp and Sword” approach. When David came in from fighting battles with his sword, he put his sword away and picked up his harp – as we see in the Psalms. When he worshipped and prayed, we can see that he brought all of the issues of the battle-field into the place of prayer. Sometimes he struggles deeply with what has or hasn’t happened. The story of each Psalm tells about a journey from pouring out all of the frustrations, fears and foibles associated with fighting battles. Then he gets connected to heaven, and the tenor usually changes. He starts the journey in pain and defeat and ends up in praise and faith. Then he puts down his harp and picks up the sword and goes off to battle once again, filled with confidence and the anticipation of victory. And the cycle repeats again and again. The place of prayer ought to be filled with the issues that arise from the battles we are engaged with, and the battles should be filled with the faith and insight we gain from the place of prayer. The same people who pray should be those who fight and the same people who fight should pray: the Harp and the Sword.
The weapons here are used offensively. Elizabeth speaks unseen reality as she declares what is happening in and around her. That’s a weapon for which the enemy has no countermeasure. She manifests peace and love with Mary – that’s righteousness. It gives the enemy a headache. She declares the salvation that is to come to Israel – that’s the gospel. She has and continues to exercise faith in what God has told her – that’s faith. She honours the favour of God upon her – that’s salvation. She clearly hears what God is saying and embraces it – that’s the word of God. And she prays. So all seven of the Ephesians 6 weapons are here, and the enemy is nowhere to be found.
As I have said previously, there is no reason to assume that if we use these weapons offensively all the time that the enemy will not come near to us. He will. He finds opportunity, vulnerability, circumstances and people to exploit the situation so that he can oppress, influence, confuse and destroy. There will be those times, though, when we find ourselves in circumstances where the presence of God is active and free flowing the enemy will have no opportunity. We should be diligent to embrace the purposes and promises of God, to be open to the leading of the Spirit, be obedient to everything God has said. As we do, we will find many of these occasions.
HOW DOES THIS WORK?
- Like Elizabeth, we need to fashion our hearts and minds around what can’t be seen rather than being limited to what can be seen. The promises of God always come as unseen reality. We have a choice to make. Do we go with what we see OR do we place what we do see within the reality framework of what God has revealed but can’t yet be seen – i.e. the kingdom of God reality?
- Like Elizabeth we need to understand that the purposes of God may well bring us great personal joy, i.e. bearing a child after being childless but this child needs to be prepared to serve the kingdom of God. That’s a bigger world and a world that requires us to live beyond our own personal desires and preferences. When Mary shows up, the world comes to Elizabeth’s door. I wonder what our response will be when God’s world shows up, and we have to embrace a bigger plan, bigger story and a bigger world than the one we might prefer? That willingness is called faith, and it is an enemy-dart-quenching weapon we need to employ if we are going to see battles being won.
- Giving ourselves into the expanded world of God’s purpose brings a flow of revelation and a breathtaking awareness of God’s nature as well as his purpose. He uses nobodies – not just any nobody but nobodies who are faithfully serving where they are when no one else is watching. No one would have thought much about either of these two women by human reckoning. But when no one was watching, they were righteous, and their hearts were open to God. That was their ticket into this amazing “game.”
- Faithfulness to one revelation is the entry point for more revelation. As we see in Elizabeth’s house, God made his will and presence known AS they were celebrating what he was doing. We get more when we fully invest in what we have already been given. Jesus said exactly that. Sadly, Christian history is replete with examples of individuals and groups who were privileged to be given fresh insights into Biblical truth. They embraced it, followed it out and then found themselves defining everything only by what they were told. When someone comes with a further instalment, it seems that the people with the previous revelation provide the most ardent opposition to what happens next. Elizabeth and Mary are examples of two people who walked fully in the revelation they had but were also willing to receive more. More came to them when they got together (and there is a little principle all on its own – I reckon more comes when we get together ). It’s not a series of fashion changes. It is the unfolding of a divine story. The Word of God will always move us further toward the end goal. And it is a sword in the hand at every stage.
 See Matthew 12:43-45
 See Revelation 5:8 “And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp, and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people.”
 See Luke 19:11-27 The parable of the ten minas