Luke 1. God's Advance Team.
Key Notes: Two miracle-births in two years. Zechariah's silent witness. Singing from the Psalms. A team of five to lead the way.
Who is He? Who is Jesus, who is called the Christ? Luke seeks to answer the question. The answer is "not what you think"--regardless of what that is. He is the Healer, the Great Physician in Luke's Gospel. But he is also a keen critic of the uses of money. He is the antagonist of the religious establishment, confounding the Pharisees and lawyers, as well as His own disciples. He is the Master teacher of the disciples, often leading in ways they did not understand. He breaks social rules and makes us all who look on in wonder.
In his preface, Luke makes it clear that he intends to tell the historical truth about Christ based on multiple sources of information from within the body of believers, although he was not a personal witness. This is the human side of the inspiration of Scripture. It is a valuable statement for us who live in a period when "there are no facts, only opinions". Luke was a physician ("the beloved physician" Col.4:14), trained in medical science of the first century. He was also a Greek, the only non-Jewish writer of NT books. (Col.4:14). Acts is Luke’s second book, a record of the early church and the ministry of Peter and Paul. He accompanied Paul on some of his missionary journeys.
Luke's Gospel is special for its focus on people--Zechariah, Mary and Elizabeth, Zacchaeus and Cleopas. He tells us of the early life of Jesus and the birth of John the Baptist. Three times he tells about other parents with an only child at risk. (7:12; 8:42; 9:38). He has a concentration of parables dealing with money and poverty. More of Jesus' prayers are mentioned here and there is more joyfulness expressed than in the other Gospels, both at the beginning and the end of the book.
I think Luke emphasizes the training of the disciples. Jesus taught by demonstration, with the disciples looking on as Jesus redirected their thinking and upset their religious customs and thought patterns.
Luke's Gospel can be divided into three parts.
Chapters 1–8 give us the basic training of the disciples. In this section, Jesus healed, broke social rules and reordered the disciples’ attitudes.
Chapters 9–18 give us the advanced training. Jesus showed Himself to Peter, James and John in His Glory. He taught them about prayer, declared war on the religious establishment, talked about money and wealth. He taught them how to deal with opposition. We see road-blocks that the disciples must deal with.
Chapter 19–24 are the conclusion—the Triumphal Entry, last discourses with the Pharisees and the disciples, the Trial and the Crucifixion, Death and Resurrection of Christ.
The first chapter of Luke is in seven parts: an introductory salutation, a prophecy of the birth of John the Baptist, a prophecy of the birth of Jesus, a visit of the two mothers-to-be, Mary's song, John's birth, and Zechariah's psalm.
1:1–4 Many manuscripts of the life of Christ were being worked within the Christian community based on eye-witness accounts and ministers of the Word. Only four survived. Luke, although he was not an eyewitness, had kept track of all the information and decided to write a history for a Greek, named Theophilus so that he too would know the truth.
1:5–25 The first scene is in the Holy Place of the third temple, Herod’s Temple. A priest named Zechariah was offering incense (probably a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity) and saw a stranger in the room. It was an angel of the Lord, standing on the right side of the altar of incense--the focus of ritual prayer--while the people were in prayer outside. They may have been praying to God "...to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of eath, and guid our feet in the way of peace." (Lk.1:79). Or that God would sent the prophet Elijah. Mal.45
He was gripped with fear, but heard the angel say that his repeated prayer for a son had been answered, and that there would be a time of joy in his family. The boy would be great, filled with the Holy Spirit from birth and would prepare the way for the Lord. He would go in the power and spirit of Elijah. (Mal.4:5; Matt.11:14; 17:13). Would he be a Nazirite? (Num.6:2). Turning the hearts of the fathers to the children implies a restoration of child-like faith. Could Messiah be far behind?
Zechariah should have been thrilled. This mysterious visitor knew his name, knew what he had been praying for for years, and made a promise of a wonderful son. Instead, he was skeptical, perhaps confused, and asked for proof! Then the Angel Gabriel revealed himself as the one who stood in the presence of God and told him that as a sign, he would be dumb--not be able to speak until the boy was born. Zechariah went out before the people mute and gesticulating. That there was a portent involved, no one in the crowd would doubt. It had to do with communication. Communication would be John the Baptist’s job as Christ's "advance-man".
400 year had passed since Malachi the prophet wrote. Malachi’s last word is, “I will send you Elijah the prophet….” (Mal. 4:5). The Angel Gabriel spoke to Zechariah the priest in the Holy Place next to the Altar of Incense, “… make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” (Lk. 1:17). Zechariah's son, John the Baptist, became the new Elijah. The link between the Old Covenant and the New was forged by Gabriel’s word.
1:26–37 Six months later, the Angel Gabriel made a second appearance, to a young woman in Galilee named Mary. She was disturbed, although not as frightened as Zechariah. But the word that she would have a son who would assume David's throne and rule over Israel was hard to imagine. She was not even married. When she asked the angel how she was to have a child, Gabriel said that the Holy Spirit would come upon her and that the child would be holy, the Son of God. With that small and cryptic information, she was able to consent, an almost unimaginable act of faith.
1:38–56 Mary went to visit her pregnant relative Elizabeth, who was in seclusion. Elizabeth immediately recognized Mary's exalted position and was filled with the Holy Spirit. Her unborn child also reacted with excitement. Mary responded with a psalm that is awesome in its thought, bringing to mind Hannah's song (ISam.2:1–10) and Psalm 113.
God has exalted her, His lowly handmaiden, for all generations--a new historical figure.
God has scattered the proud--a change in the moral order .
God has put down the mighty from their thrones and exalted the lowly--a change in the political realm.
God had fed the hungry and sent the rich away empty-handed--a change in the economic sphere.
God has helped Israel--a change in the religious world.
God had remembered his covenant to Abraham.a confirmation of God’s presence.
The psalm has revolutionary overtones--God is going to upset the status quo (Roman rule, Roman taxation, Roman religion) and is going to implement His covenant with Abraham. The essence of the covenant with Abraham was that all nations would be blessed. (Genesis 12:3). It is an amazing piece of prophecy. It would not be realized in the way they thought nor completed in their life-time. But Mary has been exalted for all generations.
1:57–80 The birth of Elizabeth and Zechariah's child was accompanied by celebration among the neighbors. The name offered by Elizabeth was rejected until Zechariah confirmed it in writing: his name is John!
At once he could speak and responded with a psalm:
God has visited and redeemed Israel
according to the word of the prophets,
so that we can be saved from our enemies,
so that we may serve Him without fear.
Then he addressed his newborn son:
This prophet of the Most High
will go before to prepare the way,
to give the knowledge of salvation,
to give light to those who walk in darkness,
to guide their feet in the way of peace.
The units of the chapter are so rich and interesting in themselves that it is difficult to look at the whole and try to understand what God was doing. Clearly He was in charge because He sent the angel Gabriel twice to earth, first to Jerusalem, and then to Galilee, both ends of Israel, and there were two miraculous births. The reactions of the participants were also important.
God's priest, Zechariah was first to hear the news, and when he reacted weakly, God used a sign to alert the devout of Jerusalem that something extraordinary was happening. Zechariah came out of the Temple dumb-founded--an ironic way of dealing with a skeptic --but one that would get the news out quickly. Then there were two notable births in fifteen months. The first aroused gossip because Elizabeth's baby was a miracle at her age. Zechariah regained his voice at the signing of the tablet: "his name is JOHN". The news traveled quickly. Mary's birth was also singular and the subject of wide speculation, even scandal.
God had created an advanced team of five: Zechariah and Elizabeth birthing John the Baptist; Mary and Joseph. And there will be others--angels, shepherds, magi, Simeon and Anna. We might argue that God did not need advanced publicity for Christ, but He clearly chose to have plentiful and varied notice.
We understand the value of such advertising. Microsoft 2000 was heard of long before it came on the market. Similarly, God is getting the message out to many people through us, who are His advertisers and advance people. How many times will people say "no" to Him? Usually many times before they say "Yes." But we are to show the Way, pointing people in His direction. And as He guided them then, He will guide us now. Even when we react poorly, God may use our mute responses for His glory.