25 March 2020

Starting the Gospel: Luke 1-3

Luke 1:1-4 Introduction

1:1 The Gospel of Luke is not unique. It is one of four gospels included in the New Testament, and one of over 30 gospels known to exist at the time of it's writing.

1:2 Luke's gospel is comprised of the teachings of the Apostles, but Luke himself was not an Apostle. He is not an eyewitness to the life of Jesus or to the events he records.

1:3 Luke establishes his credentials, he has researched the events of Jesus's life and his teachings. This is why he chooses to write an “orderly account” or “narrative.” This could also be considered a story. Luke identifies his intended reader as “most excellent Theophilus” which may have been an actual person, but it is important to not that the name also translates as “Pursuer of God,” and so could be applied to any believer.

1:4 Luke's intended reader is not a new convert to the faith or an unbeliever, but someone who has heard the Gospel and wants to know more. Luke's goal is to show the certainty of the Gospel by giving a well researched and detailed account, complete with names, places, and dates. This does not mean that it is a factually accurate historical record. It is still a story, or narrative.

Luke 1:5-25 Birth of John the Baptist Foretold / Luke 1:26-38 Birth of Jesus Foretold

Luke proceeds to tell two stories in parallel, the story of two cousins, John and Jesus. John is to be the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth. Jesus is to be the son of Joseph and Mary. Zechariah and Elizabeth are too old to have children, while Joseph and Mary are too young to have children. While these pregnancies are notable, they are far from miraculous. Mary ans Zechariah are each visited by an angel and told what name to give their sons. Zechariah does not believe and is silenced, while Mary responds with wonder and goes to her cousin Elizabeth to share the good news.

Luke 1:39-45 Mary Visits Elizabeth, Luke 1:46-56 Mary's Song (1 Sam 2:1-10)

While Mary is visiting her cousin, she sings a song. This song is a parallel to both the song of Hannah in 1 Samuel 2:1-10 and the song in Luke 1:67-80, Zechariah's Song. Elizabeth does not get a song, but her situation is identical to Hannah's in 1 Samuel, which invites a comparison between John the Baptist and Samuel, last of the judges and first of the prophets.

Luke 1:57-66 The Birth of John the Baptist

Once John is born and Zechariah names him, Zechariah's silence is ended and he praises God, much to the astonishment of his friends and relatives.

Luke 2:1-21 The Birth of Jesus

This story runs parallel to the birth of John the Baptist. When Mary gives birth, she is visited by Shepherd who marvel at the wondrous child. Unlike Zechariah, she remains silent and contemplates the meaning of what is happening.

Luke 2:22-40 Jesus Presented at the Temple

Forty days after Jesus's birth, he is taken to the Temple in Jerusalem. This is to complete Mary's ritual purification after having given birth and to induct their firstborn son into the faith with the sacrifice required in Leviticus 12:1-8.

Mary and Joseph are met by two strange figures, Simeon and Anna. Each identify Jesus as the coming Messiah. They make reference to the idea that the Messiah will end the rule of Rome in Israel. They consider Jesus to be the coming of an earthly king who will set Israel free and forever displace (or even kill) all the foreigners occupying Israel.

Luke 2:41-52 Jesus Returns to the Temple at 12 years old

Jesus and his family visit the Temple in Jerusalem, as they do every year. This year, however, Jesus stays behind while his parents leave with the caravan. After searching, Jesus's parents find him in the Temple, which he calls, “my Father's house.”

Luke 3:1-2 Setting the Date

This passage mentions a number of names and dates which would be familiar to the reader at the time the book was written. Luke gives names familiar to Jews of the era but also to those of the larger Roman world.

Luke 3:3 John's Baptism

When John preaches baptism, it is not a new idea. There was already a baptism of ritual purification. What John's baptism introduced was the idea of repentance. To repent is to commit to a specific change in a person's life and to take the action necessary to live that change. Compare this to the idea of offering sacrifices, and it is clear that John is preaching that forgiveness should not come at a cost.

Luke 3:4-6 Prophesy About John

This prophesy is taken from IIsaiah 40:3-5.

Luke 3:7-20 John Speaks of the Messiah

When John addresses the crowd as a “brood of vipers,” it is because of their beliefs about the Messiah. At this time, it was believed that the Messiah would come for Israel, and only Israel, that he would drive out the Romans, and indeed all foreigners, and that he would rule Israel and keep its borders safe for all time. This nationalist idea is immediately dismissed by John who declares “out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.”

John corrects this idea by defining what lines the Messiah will expect of those he saves, that the rich share with the poor, and that those in power do not abuse those under their authority.

Luke 3:21-22 John Baptizes Jesus

Jesus is baptized by John. At this time, the Father declares from Heaven, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” However, in the earliest manuscripts of the Book of Luke, this same passage reads, “Today you have become my son.” This is an important distinction, because it means (as it is suggested elsewhere in the book) that in the mind of the original author of the Gospel of Luke, there was nothing inherently divine about Jesus.

Luke 3:23-38 Genealogy of Jesus

Many people skip over reading this list of names, but there are a number of important entries in Jesus's genealogy. For one, it starts with Joseph. This is because Jesus is, in the oldest manuscript, the literal son (yes, in the normal way) of Joseph.

Joseph is a descendant of David, the second King of Israel, who united the kingdom and from whose line the Messiah must come. David is a descendant of Judah who is the founder of the Tribe of Judah. Judah is a descendant of Abraham, who is the father of the entire nation of Israel, their common ancestor. Abraham is a descendant of Noah, whose apocalypse is very similar to the concept of the Messiah in Jesus's time. Noah is a descendant of Adam, the first human, whose name means “Man” and so Jesus is a Son of Man. Adam is noted here as the Son of God, and so Jesus is also a Son of God.

These titles are taken directly from his genealogy, and it is entirely possible that in Luke's mind, Jesus was only as much a “Son of Man” or “Son of God” insomuch as any other human being. Yes, Jesus is the Messiah, but anyone could have been.

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