Luke Chapter 1:The Prophetic Hope Has Dawned, And Preparation For The Work To come.
Luke 1:1-4 The Word Fulfilled In Historical Acts And Words.
Church history is unique. It is about what is fulfilled. It is about setting that fulfillment in an order. To this end Luke begins with those who were there at the very beginning of Jesus ministry. It was important for him to speak to eyewitnesses, who also happened to be ministers of the word. John, who wrote a truly unique account of Jesus life and ministry, put the purpose of the project well. “And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” (20:30-31) Those who saw have testified (Jn. 19:35). It was about more than a simple recording of facts, although it was this. It was about testifying to what was being fulfilled, that which was written and spoken of from the prophets of old.
Knowing and believing that Jesus was the promised messiah was their goal (Cf. I Jn. 5:1,13; 5:24). From Christ’s birth this was also his purpose. “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.” (2:11) It was a matter of life and death (Cf. Jn. 3:15-16). It is a record more akin to the work of an attorney building their case based on the evidence and eyewitness accounts. It will be an account for those who have not seen or heard directly themselves (Cf. I Pet. 1:8-9). These writers were concerned with making certain the things which they were recording. The word is not about myth that somehow carries a mystical experience that needs no bearing on historical facts or reality. Christianity is about historical facts with redemptive significance. Luke would carry on this purpose in his book of Acts (Cf. 1:21-22).
At the beginning of Acts Luke reiterates his purpose here with his gospel. He wrote an “account…of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which he was taken up.” So it began with His birth and concluded with His ascension, but it was only of what he began to do. The book of Acts recorded what Jesus then continued to do, through the Spirit given (Cf. Mk. 16:19-20; Mt. 28:18-20). However, the purpose of the gospel record was clear, “He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen, to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.” (Acts 1:2-4 Cf. Heb. 2:3-4) These were the eyewitnesses and ministers of the word. The proofs were unmistakable, and they spoke with those who saw and heard.
Luke 1:5-25 Speechless.
Luke proceeds to anchor his account of the person and work of Christ in history (v. 5a Cf. Mt. 2:1). The notation of Zacharias being of the division of Abijah, would hearken back to the days of Nehemiah (12:4, 17 Cf. I Chron. 24:10). He and Elizabeth are described as “righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.” (v. 6). We know from scripture that this does not mean that they were sinless, but more by way of surprise that they had not had a child, since this was regarded as a reward to the faithful (Cf. Ps. 127:3-5). Hence Luke’s note in verse seven. Like Abraham and Sarah, they were “well advanced in years.” (v. 7 Cf. Gen. 17:17-22)
As it happen, the lot fell to Zacharias to serve in the Holy Place (vv. 8-9 Cf. Ex. 30:7-8; Lev. 16:17), at which time the people prayed outside (v. 10). We are told that he was troubled and fear came upon him when an angel appeared by the altar of incense (vv. 11-12). Incense was symbolic of the prayers of his people (Rev. 5:8). He must have wondered about the prayers he was offering. It seems clear that one of those prayers, perhaps the chief, was that he and Elizabeth might have a child, for the angel says, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.” (v. 13) John’s name means, “the Lord is gracious.”
The angel assures John that he and Elizabeth would “have joy and gladness,” and many would rejoice at his birth (v. 14). He would be great in God’s sight, and it would appear that he was destined for the life of a Nazarite (v. 15 Cf. Nu. 6:3). He would be filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb and destined for a unique task and role in history, much like Elijah of old (vv. 16-17 Cf. Mt. 11:14). This was in fulfillment of the prophetic word of Malachi (4:5-6), the closing words of the old covenant scriptures. His message would be that spoken of by the prophet Isaiah (Cf. 1:76; Mt. 3:3; Is. 40:3).
The fact of their ages led to Zacharias’ question about them having a child. Abraham and Sarah laughed when they were in a similar situation (v. 18 Cf. Gen. 17:17; 18:12). It appears that the angel Gabriel took Zacharias’ question as one of some doubt. Zacharias seems to have been punished with silence until the future time of fulfillment (vv. 20-22). Gabriel was an angel of some prominence. Daniel records that he was the one who was commanded by the heavenly council to explain the vision which he had received to him (8:16-27). This would suggest that Zacharias was indeed standing in the very council chamber of the glory-presence in heaven.
It seems to be no coincidence that it was Gabriel who revealed to Daniel the meaning of the vision of the 70 weeks, for it was this very vision that was now finding fulfillment in the incredible events of which Zacharias and his son John would be a part (9:21-27). He would go on to also announce Jesus’ birth (Lk. 1:26-38). It is Luke who describes the future destruction of Jerusalem which occurred in 70 AD, as “the days of vengeance” in terms of the fulfillment of Daniel 9:27 and the abominations that makes desolate, as Jerusalem being trampled by the Gentiles (Lk. 21:20-24). The Messiah was coming, and John would precede Him as His messenger to prepare the way.
Luke 1:26-37 Son Of David, Son Of God.
Gabriel appears once again, this time to Mary, six months into Elizabeth’s pregnancy (v. 26, 36). Betrothal was marriage, but without sexual intercourse. It is important for Luke to make the point that Mary was a virgin, but one who was betrothed to a man named Joseph, “of the house of David.” (v. 27 Cf. Is. 7:14; Mt. 1:18) Gabriel’s greeting was a call to Mary to rejoice, for she was highly favoured and blessed (v. 28)! Mary, like Zacharias, was “troubled” at Gabriel’s presence and speech (v. 29 Cf. 1:12). Gabriel reassured Mary that she need not be afraid for she had found favour with God (v. 30). Gabriel informs her that she will conceive a son (v. 31).
Incidentally, this is one point which proves that original sin is by way of covenant headship under Adam, it is not from merely being physically born as a member of the human race. Gabriel instructed Mary that the baby to be born to her was to be called ‘Jesus’. Isaiah’s Immanuel would save His people from their sins (v. 31 Cf. 2:21; Is. 7:14; Mt. 1:21; Jn. 1:29). The purpose of the incarnation was ultimately for redemption. He would be a son of David (Cf. Mt. 1:1). In fact, He would fulfill the covenantal promise to David, to have a son to sit upon his throne forever (Cf. II Sam. 7:12-17; Dan. 2:44). He would also be called, “Son of the Highest.” (v. 32 Cf. Mk. 5:7)
The purpose and work of this Son would be to establish the LORD’s kingdom, and build His house. It is worth noting that these two things are not synonymous. His kingdom is bigger than His house. His church is His house, but His kingdom encompasses the whole of reality (v. 33 Cf. Heb. 3:6; Mt. 6:10; 28:18-20). Of course, Mary could not conceive how this conception would take place, since she was a virgin (v. 34). This would be a work of the Holy Spirit, therefore He would also be called “the Son of God.” (v. 35 Cf. Mt. 1:20; Heb. 1:2, 8) “For with God nothing will be impossible.” (v. 37 Cf. 18:27; Jer. 32:17)
Luke 1:38-56 Mary And Her Song Of Faith.
“Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” (v. 38) This was Mary’s response of faith to the word delivered by Gabriel. She followed up that belief with a visit to Elizabeth, because of the word spoken concerning her (v. 36, 39-40). She believed that “with God nothing will be impossible.” (v. 37) When Mary greeted Elizabeth she was filled with the Spirit and spoke the word, and John also leaped for joy (vv. 41-42a, 44)! Remarkably, Elizabeth confesses that Mary will be the mother of her Lord (vv. 42b-43)! Mary and the child would be blessed, Mary because she believed, “for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.” (v. 45 Cf. Jn. 20:29)
It is sometimes forgotten that the Lord used many women to author portions of scripture. Elizabeth’s words were recorded and here also Mary’s words and song. It is a song which declares the greatness of the Lord and His mercy. Mary acknowledged her need of the Savior (v. 47), and that she was but His maidservant (vv. 38, 48a). She also rejoiced that her confession would pass throughout the generations (v. 48b). Jesus made the point that the blessing rested on those who hear the word and keep it (Cf. 11:27-28). Mary’s blessed condition was not because of anything she had done, but it was solely because of His mercy (vv. 49-50 Cf. Ps. 103:17).
He exalts the humble, but the proud are brought low. The humble accept God’s word in faith, the proud trust in “the imagination of their hearts.” (vv. 51-52; Is. 40:10; Ps. 33:10; Prov. 3:34; I Pet. 5:5) Those who know they are hungry are filled (Cf. I Sam. 2:7-8; Mt. 5:6). Those who think they are rich in themselves are “sent away empty.” (v. 53) As Mary confessed, Jesus was coming in fulfillment of the promised Seed (vv. 54-55). This was the promise of Genesis 3:15 reiterated to Abraham and Israel of old (Gen. 17:7, 19; Ps. 132:11; Gal. 3:16; Rom. 11:28). There is a pattern for us to follow here. Hear the word, accept it by faith, act upon it, and praise the Lord for his mercy!
Luke 1:57-66 John The Baptist.
Not many babies have their birth announced by an angel, but such was the case with John. Names carried more significance, including for the historical context, and in this case it is worth noting that the name John was assigned to him by God, and his name means “the Lord is gracious.” He also came in answer to the prayer of Zacharias and Elizabeth (1:13). The angel predicted joy and gladness at his birth, and such was the case (v. 58 Cf. 1:14). Elizabeth was “shown great mercy.” It was said of Zacharias and Elizabeth that “they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.” (1:6) To this end, when John was eight days old, “they came to circumcise the child.” (v. 59 Cf. Gen. 17:12; Lev. 12:3)
Elizabeth remained firm in her commitment to the word spoken by the angel, and when Zacharias was asked about the name, he also remained committed to the name John, and at that point he was not only allowed to speak, but he was filled with the Spirit and prophesied (vv. 60-64, 69). He too praised God with the people. “All these sayings were discussed,” as fear came upon all. Everyone knew that something unique was taking place, and it was as a result of God’s mercy. When Mary had visited Elizabeth six months into her pregnancy, “the babe leaped in her womb for joy.” (v. 41) “And the hand of the Lord was with him.” (v. 66c) John’s arrival was in fulfillment of Malachi 4:5-6 in a ministry that would hearken back to Elijah, “to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (v. 17)
Luke 1:67-80 Zacharias’ Prophetic Word.
Like Elizabeth, Zacharias “was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied.” (v. 67) He spoke of prophetic fulfillment of the redemption and salvation for the people of God (vv. 68-70 Cf. Ezek. 29:21; Jer. 23:5-6; Rom. 1:2) According to Zacharias, this prophetic message went back to when “the world began.” (v. 70b Cf. Acts 3:21) The promised Seed had come, who would crush Satan under His feet, and fulfill the promise of the covenant (vv. 71-72 Cf. Gen. 3:15; Lev. 26:42) In particular, Jesus would fulfill the oath which was sworn to Abraham, to deliver His people from their enemies that they, “might serve Him without fear.” (vv. 73-74 Cf. Gen. 12:3; 22:16-18; Heb. 6:13) This would be a freedom to serve, “in holiness and righteousness.” (v. 75 Cf. Jer. 32:38-40; Rom. 6:18; Eph. 4:24; II Th. 2:13; Heb. 9:14)
Zacharias the directs His words to John, who would be “called the prophet of the Highest.” (v. 76a Cf. Is. 40:3-5; Mal. 3:1; 4:5-6; Mt. 3:3; 11:10; Lk. 3:4-6; Jn. 1:23) The redemption and salvation in this covenant fulfills the promise of sins forgiven (vv. 77-78 Cf. Jer. 31:34; Mk. 1:4; Lk. 3:3-6; Is. 40:3-5). Light coming into the darkness also speaks to the gospel coming to the Gentiles (v. 79 Cf. Is. 9:1-2; Mt. 4:15-16). There is a cluster of truths involved in what is meant by this salvation. Redemption involves turning “from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive the forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” (Acts 26:18) Such was the ministry entrusted to Paul, a ministry that continues for the church (II Cor. 4:6; Eph. 5:14).
Peace with God is ultimately what comes when one is forgiven (v. 79b Cf. Jn. 10:4; 16:33). However, it also involves Christ overcoming the world. It is more than just a private personal experience. Part of this great salvation is the Priest-King will ultimately subdue the nations under His feet (Pss. 2, 110). This also goes back to that first gospel promise of Genesis 3:15 (Cf. Mt. 28:18-20; Rom. 16:20). Jesus, the promised Messiah, is “the Dayspring from on high” who has visited us, and this because of God’s mercy (v. 78). He is “the Sun of Righteousness” (Mal. 4:2). By way of contrast, John was a man of the desert wilderness, which was symbolical of the state of the people of Israel, and the message of repentance which they and the Gentiles needed to hear (v. 80 Cf. Heb. 3:16-19).