Luke 1

Background, Birth, and Childhood of Jesus
Luke 1 – 3
Greeting and Preface
Luke 1:1-4
1 Forasmuch as many have undertaken to draw up a relation concerning the matters fully believed among us, 2 as those who from the beginning were eye-witnesses of and attendants on the Word have delivered them to us, 3 it has seemed good to “me” also, accurately acquainted from the origin with all things, to write to thee with method, most excellent Theophilus, 4 that thou mightest know the certainty of those things in which thou hast been instructed. vv.1-4 Introduction. The introductory verses of Luke’s gospel are filled with rich instruction! We can see that the gospel was written as a letter to another believer. How worthy are the efforts of any believer who seeks to spread the wonderful story of Jesus!
Addressed to Theophilus. Luke is the only gospel addressed to an individual, which is in perfect accord with the character of the gospel, which is the Divine grace of God come down to men through the Perfect Man. Theophilus whose name means ‘lover of God’ was most likely a Roman governor or someone of importance in Roman society, the expression “most excellent” being a parallel to “your excellency”. He was a believer but needed more teaching about “the way”, and some additional assurances about the things he had been taught and believed. It is interesting that the prefix “Most Excellent” is dropped in Acts. We are not told why, but perhaps as Theophilus was growing in his soul and the earlier formality between himself and Luke was no longer appropriate. Also, it is possible that Theophilus lost his position because of his faith. God was rewarding the faith of Theophilus (Luke 8:18), and helping him to know with certainty the things he had already believed by faith.
Inspired Writing. Luke states his intention to write the gospel on the backdrop of what others had written. There are many accounts of Christ at that time, but they were not inspired. Luke does not accuse the other writers of being evil, but at the same time he shows that there was something lacking in those other accounts. The other biographies would have included much truth, and it wasn’t necessarily that there were errors in them. But inspiration is more than just correct facts, it’s God setting forth the truth according to his mind as He sees it. The other writers had gotten what they had from those who were “eyewitnesses” from the very beginning and had ministered the Word. Luke doesn’t claim the same sources as them, yet he states that he had perfect understanding of all those things from the beginning, without stating what his sources were. Luke was not an eye witness himself (Acts 16), but there was an abundance of eyewitnesses and Luke had received their testimony. In an inspired work, there is no need to give laborious proofs of human sources. The difference with Luke, although he may not have known it until later, was that his account was inspired by the Spirit of God.
Luke’s Method. Luke tells Theophilus that he writes the account “with method” or “regular order”. A regular order simply means a methodical manner. You can see Luke’s method when you study his gospel. He links things together – events, conversations, questions, etc. – according to the connection of their meaning rather than the chronology of events. Mark gives us the more chronological account (“and, and, and”) but Luke has a very special order as well, grouped by subject. Obviously, the gospel of Luke follows a general chronological order, going from pre-birth, to birth, to childhood, to ministry, to death, to resurrection, and finally to ascension. But when we get to the details of the Lord’s ministry, the moral order comes out. For example, the order of the three wilderness-temptations differs from Matthew. In Matthew the order is dispensational; first tempted as a humble man because He had a right to satisfy His hunger, second tempted as the Messiah because He had a right to the Messianic prophecies, and third tempted as the Son of man because He had a right to the worldly kingdoms. But in Luke the order is moral, following the order of the elements of the world that the Apostle John speaks of in 1 John 2:16; first that which would appeal to the lust of the flesh (stones turned into bread), second that which would appeal to the pride of life (the intervention of angels), and third that which would appeal to the lust of the eyes (the kingdoms of the world).

The Birth and Childhood of John the Baptist
Luke 1:5-80

Zacharias and Elizabeth Introduced (1:5-7)

A Remnant Pictured by Seven Individuals. In this first chapter of Luke we have seven individuals who picture the faithful remnant: Zechariah, Elisabeth, John, Mary, Joseph, Simeon, and Anna. Luke is like a “book of remembrance” (Mal 3:16) for some of the remnant, who spoke often one to another as they waited for the Messiah to come. The angel said of John, “and many shall rejoice at his birth.” We read of Mary coming to visit Elisabeth and staying three months with her. We see that Anna “spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem.” There was a fellowship among these individuals! They were weak and few in number, but they were walking according to the light God had given them, and they were waiting for the coming of the Messiah.

There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest, by name Zacharias, of the course of Abia, and his wife of the daughters of Aaron, and her name Elizabeth.
v.5 Zacharias and Elizabeth. Things were a low state in Israel at this time. Herod the Great, an Edomite from Idumea, was on the throne in Judea. Everything in Israel was backwards, but Zacharias and Elisabeth were going on faithfully in obedience to the Word of God. The twenty-four “courses” of the priesthood were setup by David (1 Chron. 24). Zacharias’ great ancestor Abijah was the eighth course. Elisabeth was also of priestly lineage, and so they married within the tribe. This was not a requirement.

And they were both just before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. 7 And they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both advanced in years. 
vv.6-7 Upright and Barren. Even though they were both walking uprightly before the Lord according to the law, yet they had no child. It wasn’t that they didn’t want to have children either, because later we find that they had been praying for a child, but the Lord had said “no” up until that time. Zacharias may have even forgot about his prayer. Because they were not naturally blessed, others looked at her barrenness as a sign of God’s displeasure, as we gather from when Elisabeth later speaks of her “reproach” (v.25). But it was not because of some past or secret in sin in their lives. In spite of this reproach, they continued on. The Lord knew he could trust this couple especially with the requirements that were going be placed on raising the child. The Lord waited to give them a child until they were advanced in years and it was beyond human possibility to have one.

The Angel Foretells John’s Birth and Ministry (1:8-17)

Gabriel. Gabriel is one of the two great angels mentioned by name. Michael, the archangel, is especially connected with the children of Israel, their protection as a people, and their destiny as a nation (Daniel 10:21; Daniel 12:1). But then there is Gabriel who “stands before God”, who was described by Daniel as having "the appearance of a man" (Dan. 8:15). Gabriel seems to be sent on missions to give individuals an understanding of future events, especially in connection with the Messiah. We have Gabriel explaining the vision of the ram and he-goat in Daniel 8, announcing the 70 weeks of years until Messiah the prince would come and be cut off (Daniel 9). In Luke 1 we have Gabriel speaking to Zacharias of the Messiah’s forerunner, and then coming to Mary and announcing to her the birth of Christ.
And it came to pass, as he fulfilled his priestly service before God in the order of his course, 9 it fell to him by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter into the temple of the Lord to burn incense. 
10 And all the multitude of the people were praying without at the hour of incense. 11 And an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right of the altar of incense. 12 And Zacharias was troubled, seeing him, and fear fell upon him. vv.8-11 The Angel Appears. Despite no outward sign of blessing, the Lord had this godly couple on His heart. Zacharias was faithful in carrying on with his normal duties. It was a very strange and wonderful thing for the Angel to appear to person at this time in Israel after so many years of silence. The description of of this appearance is very detailed. The place where the angel appeared is very fitting, “standing on the right of the altar of incense”. That altar speaks the acceptability of the Person of Christ before God, and it has to do with intercession and the believer’s acceptance in Christ before God. It was the gracious intervention of God to appear at this time to announce the forerunner of the Messiah. The time is also “the hour of incense”, when all the people were outside praying. It is interesting that that time of the day is frequently associated with God’s grace to Israel. Do we have an hour of incense in our lives, where we come before the throne of grace? Zacharias’ immediate reaction was to be troubled, and he fell down in fear, but in v.13 the angel reassures him. 

But the angel said to him, Fear not, Zacharias, because thy supplication has been heard, and thy wife Elizabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John [‘the gift of God’]
14 And he shall be to thee joy and rejoicing, and many shall rejoice at his birth. vv.13-14 John’s Birth Foretold. When did Zacharias start praying for a child? Surely when he was young, and perhaps decades earlier. He may have forgotten his own prayer, but God had not forgotten it! The angel reassured Zacharias that his prayer was heard and that his wife would indeed have a son even at her age. The name John means ‘the gift of God’. John would be God’s gift not only to his parents but to Israel, as v.14 explains. His parents would receive much joy and rejoicing, but also many in Israel would recognize this extraordinary birth as an obvious sign from God, and they too would rejoice.

15 For he shall be great before the Lord, and he shall drink no wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. 16 And many of the sons of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. 17 And “he” shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn hearts of fathers to children, and disobedient ones to the thoughts of just men, to make ready for the Lord a prepared people.
vv.16-17 John’s Character and Ministry. John would be a Nazarite, inwardly and outwardly separated to the Lord, and therefore the Holy Spirit would come upon him “even from his mother’s womb”, and this would give him moral power in his mission to turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord from whom they had departed. Here we find the outline and character of John’s mission. He would “go before Him”, meaning he would be the forerunner of the Messiah, who is Himself Jehovah as a man on the earth (“Him”). John could not do the work of taking away sin, that which only the Messiah, the Lamb of God, could do. But John could “prepare” the hearts of many in Israel for the coming of Messiah, and he could lead a work of repentance in Israel. John’s ministry would be “in the spirit and power of Elijah”, turning the hearts of fathers to children, etc. If we read about the spirit or character of Elijah‘s ministry, it was a ministry of repentance. Why would the fathers’ hearts need to be turned toward their children? In days of moral decline the breakdown of the family is evident, and even the natural affection of fathers for children deteriorates. Recalling the people to the Lord and the disobedient to righteousness would heal those natural relationships. That is the moral order. Family problems cannot be fixed at the root without the Lord. Domestic joy is one of the blessings of the Millennium (Psa 127). But Israel was in a very dark state morally at this time.

Zacharias’ Unbelief and Silencing (1:18-23)

18 And Zacharias said to the angel, How shall I know this, for “I” am an old man, and my wife advanced in years? v.18 Unbelief. Right when the angel had announced the gracious gift of a son to Zacharias, the old sin of unbelief rises up and askes for proof of what had just be given in revelation!

And the angel answering, said to him, “I” am Gabriel, who stand before God, and I have been sent to speak to thee, and to bring these glad tidings to thee; 20 and behold, thou shalt be silent and not able to speak, till the day in which these things shall take place, because thou hast not believed my words, the which shall be fulfilled in their time.
vv.19-20 Chastening. The angel answers in all authority and dignity; “I am Gabriel, who stand before God, etc.”. Who was Zacharias to question this messenger? Whenever God has to remind one of His people His place, His deity, His dignity, it is a rebuke to us. It is because we have forgotten His glory, and we have forgotten our place relative to Him. We have a similar thing here with Gabriel. There was to be a measure of punitive chastening upon Zacharias because of his unbelief. We might wonder why when Mary reacts “how can these things be?” that she gets a different response. In Mary’s case she wasn’t questioning the veracity of Gabriel’s message (v.34) but simply stating her incredulity. It wasn’t that she didn’t believe, but she couldn’t understand how it could happen. In Zacharias there was the working of unbelief, hence a different response. The consequence would be that he would be “silent and not able to speak” until the child was born. The normal happy privilege of sharing the wonderful news would be dampened by his need to “make signs” to communicate. But the chastening was only temporary. God’s grace over abounds our sin and failures.
21 And the people were awaiting Zacharias, and they wondered at his delaying in the temple. 22 But when he came out he could not speak to them, and they recognised that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he was making signs to them, and continued dumb. 23 And it came to pass, when the days of his service were completed, he departed to his house. vv.21-23 Aftermath. Even the chastening of Zacharias contributed to the attention surrounding the birth of John; “they recognised that he had seen a vision in the temple”. According to Josephus, each course of the priesthood would serve from Sabbath to Sabbath.1 When the time of Zacharias’ service was finished, he returned to his house.

Elizabeth’s Conception (1:24-25)

24 Now after these days, Elizabeth his wife conceived, and hid herself five months, saying, 25 Thus has the Lord done to me in these days in which he looked upon me to take away my reproach among men. vv.4-5 Conception and Joy. According to the word of the angel, Elisabeth conceived. She kept herself hidden away for the early portion of her pregnancy. She is full of joy and thankfulness for the gracious gift of the Lord. In her response we learn that she had borne reproach for being barren all those years. The Lord ultimately honored her righteous life by giving her not only a child, but a remarkable conception!

The Birth of Jesus Foretold (1:26-38)

26 But in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent of God to a city of Galilee, of which the name was Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And the angel came in to her, and said, Hail, thou favoured one! the Lord is with thee: blessed art “thou” amongst women. 29 But she, seeing the angel, was troubled at his word, and reasoned in her mind what this salutation might be. 30 And the angel said to her, Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found favour with God; 31 and behold, thou shalt conceive in the womb and bear a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus. 32 “He” shall be great, and shall be called Son of the Highest; and the Lord God shall give him the throne of David his father; 33 and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for the ages, and of his kingdom there shall not be an end. 34 But Mary said to the angel, How shall this be, since I know not a man? 35 And the angel answering said to her, The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and power of the Highest overshadow thee, wherefore the holy thing also which shall be born shall be called Son of God. 36 And behold, Elizabeth, thy kinswoman, she also has conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month to her that was called barren: 37 for nothing shall be impossible with God. 38 And Mary said, Behold the bondmaid of the Lord; be it to me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.

Mary’s Visit With Elizabeth (1:39-56)

Mary’s Arrival, the Babe’s Response, Elizabeth’s Blessing (vv.39-45)

39 And Mary, rising up in those days, went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, 40 and entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elizabeth. 41 And it came to pass, as Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, 42 and cried out with a loud voice and said, Blessed art “thou” amongst women, and blessed the fruit of thy womb. 43 And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For behold, as the voice of thy salutation sounded in my ears, the babe leaped with joy in my womb. 45 And blessed is she that has believed, for there shall be a fulfilment of the things spoken to her from the Lord.

Mary’s Prayer Magnifying the Lord (vv.46-56)

46 And Mary said, My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Saviour. 48 For he has looked upon the low estate of his bondmaid; for behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. 49 For the Mighty One has done to me great things, and holy is his name; 50 and his mercy is to generations and generations to them that fear him. 51 He has wrought strength with his arm; he has scattered haughty ones in the thought of their heart. 52 He has put down rulers from thrones, and exalted the lowly. 53 He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent away the rich empty. 54 He has helped Israel his servant, in order to remember mercy, 55 (as he spoke to our fathers,) to Abraham and to his seed for ever. 56 And Mary abode with her about three months, and returned to her house.

The Birth and Childhood of John (1:57-80)

The Birth of John (vv.57-58)

57 But the time was fulfilled for Elizabeth that she should bring forth, and she gave birth to a son. 58 And her neighbours and kinsfolk heard that the Lord had magnified his mercy with her, and they rejoiced with her.

The Controversy Over John’s Name, Zacharias’ Tongue Loosed (vv.59-66)

59 And it came to pass on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they called it after the name of his father, Zacharias. 60 And his mother answering said, No; but he shall be called John. 61 And they said to her, There is no one among thy kinsfolk who is called by this name. 62 And they made signs to his father as to what he might wish it to be called. 63 And having asked for a writing-table, he wrote saying, John is his name. And they all wondered. 64 And his mouth was opened immediately, and his tongue, and he spake, blessing God. 65 And fear came upon all who dwelt round about them; and in the whole hill-country of Judaea all these things were the subject of conversation. 66 And all who heard them laid them up in their heart, saying, What then will this child be? And the Lord’s hand was with him.

Zacharias’ Prophesy Concerning Jesus and John (vv.67-79)

67 And Zacharias his father was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying, 68 Blessed be the Lord the God of Israel, because he has visited and wrought redemption for his people, 69 and raised up a horn of deliverance for us in the house of David his servant; 70 as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets, who have been since the world began; 71 deliverance from our enemies and out of the hand of all who hate us; 72 to fulfil mercy with our fathers and remember his holy covenant, 73 the oath which he swore to Abraham our father, 74 to give us, that, saved out of the hand of our enemies, we should serve him without fear 75 in piety and righteousness before him all our days. 76 And “thou”, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest; for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to make ready his ways; 77 to give knowledge of deliverance to his people by the remission of their sins 78 on account of the bowels of mercy of our God; wherein the dayspring from on high has visited us, 79 to shine upon them who were sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.

John’s Life Prior to Public Ministry (vv.80)

80 — And the child grew and was strengthened in spirit; and he was in the deserts until the day of his shewing to Israel. 
  1. “… he ordained that one course should minister to God eight days, from sabbath to sabbath.” – The Works of Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book 7, Chapter 14
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