Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg

with Tom Fuller

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Preparing the Mind

Luke 1:1-17

Luke’s gospel is the longest in terms of verses and Luke contributes more verses to the New Testament than any other writer (Luke + Acts = 2,157 verses). This gospel, in fact, is the longest book in the New Testament. Its purpose is clear: to strengthen the faith of believers and challenge the misconceptions of unbelievers—especially non-Jews.

From start to finish, Luke poses the question: who is this man Jesus, and why should we pay attention to Him? Luke’s perspective, by the way, is the humanity of Jesus. Matthew focuses on His nobility, Mark his humility, and John His divinity. About 60% of the material in this gospel is not found in the other three.

Luke was most likely written in the 60’s, after the gospels of Mark and Matthew, but before John.

Luke was a physician (Col 4:10) and such a slave. Clearly, though, he was also a good reporter, historian and writer. He observed carefully and when he was on the scene of an event in Acts, for instance, he records specific details only an eyewitness would see. Most likely Luke did extensive interviews in preparing this account including Mary, Jesus’ mother.

Who did he write it to? Theophilus (which means lover of God) was likely a young Christian who needed some reassurance. Some have suggested that this man was Luke’s master. Theophilus, a non-Jew, may have been wondering what he is doing in a former Jewish sect—given that the Jews rejected Jesus as their Messiah. A large theme in Luke is about how Jesus came to the Jews but the Jews rejected Him, so any follower of Jesus should not expect a good reception among Jews, and that others will reject Him as well.

Luke could be broken up into 5 sections:

  1. His infancy (Luke 1:1 – 2:52)
  2. His preparation (Luke 3:1 – 4:13)
  3. His ministry in the Galilee (Luke 4:14 – 9:50) – which includes the revealing of His identity.
  4. His journey to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51 – 19:440
  5. His last days (Luke 19:45 – 24:53)

Luke wrote his gospel to assure Theophius that what he believed was true. Today the gospel still fills that purpose. In a world that doubts so much of what Jesus said, Luke’s honest and clear portrayal helps us as we consider His claims.

Much of what Luke shows us is that since Jesus suffered rejection from His culture (the Jews) so we should expect rejection of the gospel by our culture as well. But through it all, the truth of who Jesus is stands clear—and that in Him alone is salvation and the hope of mankind.

1 – 4

In these opening verses Luke tells us that there were accounts of Jesus, both written and verbal, that had come before. One such account is the gospel of Mark, which is thought to have been the first gospel written. Luke alludes to this by saying: “compile a narrative.” But there was also a strong oral tradition passed down from “eyewitnesses,” e.g.: people that Luke interviewed.

Why write another book if such a rich tradition already exists? I think it is in part because Luke considers himself what we today would call an “investigative journalist” or historian. Luke’s a Greek, writing to another Greek about events that took place in Israel among Jews. He’s taken a lot of time to carefully research everything so that this man to whom he writes can feel comfortable believing this is more than fable but fact. Luke has “carefully” investigated. It’s a word that means “diligently, precisely, and accurately”.

I know what it’s like to do this kind of work. I’ve had the privilege of authoring or co-authoring five books of history. I checked facts, interviewed people, and then was challenged by editors to confirm things. It’s one thing to write a history book now—but Luke is writing a history of the most important person ever to live. But…no pressure. He’s doing it in an orderly sequence—just the facts Ma’am—to help Theophilus come to an orderly conclusion.

You know, it begs the question—how carefully are you willing to investigate the claims of Jesus? It’s no light matter. Your eternal destiny weighs on your decision about who you think this Jesus really is. As we go through this book, I hope you put your mind in gear and follow along with Dr. Luke as we explore the issue.

Luke’s purpose is to provide “certainty”—a word that means: “safety”. It also means “firmness.” I like that. Luke wants Theophilus to be able to put his weight down on his belief in Jesus and know it’s safe to do so. I pray that for us as well.

God says: “Come let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18). You don’t hang up your brain when it comes to the gospel—you have to think and carefully consider everything Jesus did and then to come to a reasoned conclusion.

Luke says he is taking things “from the very first.” In this case, the very first thing that happens is that the Jews are notified of a coming Messiah. This takes place with the birth of the last of the Old Testament prophets: John the Baptist. But like the Jewish nation, the man who gets this message is deaf to it, so he ends up with no voice.

5 – 7

The story Luke begins with is set during the reign of Herod – who got his commission from Mark Antony and ruled from 37 – 4 B.C. Most likely these events took place between 7 and 6 B.C. Herod had done a lot of good for the nation, including rebuilding and expanding the Temple—but he was an evil man who we will find is actively and aggressively opposed to a Messiah who would take his place as king.

God sets the stage for the announcement of His Messiah by coming to a priest of the old covenant: Zechariah. He was one of about 18,000 priests who got to perform serve in the Temple only once in a lifetime. As part of the 8th order of Abijah (1 Chron 24:10), Zechariah would have been chosen by lot among his fellow priests. As we’ll discover, the son that he and Elizabeth will have is related to the Messiah. It was, of course, no coincidence that God chose him to serve on that particular day.

It is also interesting to note that God chose a childless couple to bring about the for-runner of His Messiah. God did this often – with Abram and Sarah, Isaac, and even Hannah, the mother of the last judge and first prophet Samuel. Notice too that Luke indicates that they were righteous Jews. The son that would be born would later cry out for repentance and preparation for the Messiah. The best that the Jewish system could bring is not enough to match the righteousness of God, and so something greater than the Law must come—and that is Jesus, who will fulfill all the Law perfectly—then give that righteousness to us.

8 – 12

This likely happened at the 3pm burning of incense. Zechariah would have just laid the incense on the altar when the angel spoke to him. The incense represents the prayers of God’s people. The incense altar sat in the Holy Place, right in front of the mercy seat in the Holy of Holies (hidden by the veil) (Exodus 30:1-9). Outside were a whole bunch of people worshipping God and praying for salvation—something that they did day in and day out. I wonder too if Zechariah used this very special time to send up a special prayer to God, not for the people but for himself—that God would grant them a child.

Suddenly Zechariah knows he’s not alone. Perhaps he didn’t see the angel at first because of the smoke from the incense, but once he realizes it, he is “startled” which means: “to agitate” and be “overcome with fear” which means that the fear “took hold” or “seized” Zechariah’s heart. That’s a normal reaction to seeing an angel, and so the first words often times an angel must speak are to tell the person not to be afraid!

Notice that the angel gave the reason for Zechariah to not fear—that is that his prayer has been heard. Meeting God (or His representative) strikes fear because of judgment. When we meet the divine we see clearly our human frailty—but here we see provision, not punishment.

13 – 15

In verses 13 and 14 the angel, who we find out is Gabriel, tells Zechariah that his prayer is answered, and that he will have a son that will be a “joy and delight for you” and not for you only but that “many will rejoice at his birth.” Not having kids was considered a curse in those days, but this goes well beyond just giving a kid to Zechariah and Elizabeth, their son will be a messenger to all the people.

The announcement, like those to childless couples before, shows that God is once again resuming activity in Israel. Zechariah was praying for a son, but remember that the altar of incense represented the prayers of the people. The people had often prayed for deliverance, and the One whom Zechariah’s son will proclaim answers that prayer as well.

The child is special in his lifestyle and his purpose. Gabriel says he will be “great” in the sight of the Lord. We use this word “megas” as in “mega big”. In Luke 7:28 Jesus would say: “I tell you, among those born of women no one is greater than John.” Jesus goes on to say that the least in the kingdom is greater than John because of the salvation that the Messiah brings.

He is to have a special lifestyle—one free from the influence of intoxicants because the influence on John’s brain was to be solely from the Holy Spirit. Even the righteous in that culture drank some wine—so this shows a special dedication to God.

16 – 17

The words of this son’s purpose are rich in meaning from the Old Testament.

  1. Malachi. 3:1 “See, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me.” The word “clear” in Hebrew means “to turn” like it says in verse 16, which is a common way of saying: “repent”.
  2. The last words of the Old Testament: Malachi. 4:5 “Look, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome Day of the LORD comes. 6 And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers. Otherwise, I will come and strike the land with a curse.

The last words of the Old Testament are picked up after a 400-year silence as some of the first words of the New Testament.

John’s purpose is to prepare Israel for God once again coming to their rescue. This time it is not going to be Israel only, but the whole world. And the rescue won’t be from a physical enemy, but the enemy of us all: sin. As such, their preparation was not to fashion weapons of war but to soften their hearts in repentance—to bring about a mind that is ready for God to intervene. Here the Messiah Himself is not even in view—only that God was going to do something.

What does it mean that John would come in the spirit of Elijah? There are lots of thoughts on this subject, but some to note: Elijah and John came at a time of apostasy to turn people back to Yahweh. Both dressed similarly, and both were men of powerful character who never held back in their criticism of the current spiritual state of Israel and the need to repent. They both boldly came against the kings of their time: Elijah against Ahab and John against Herod. Both kings sought to have them put to death, and both doubted their mission at some point.

Conclusions

  • In closing I want to point out two things:
  1. Luke carefully presents the events so Theophilus can feel confident in his belief in Jesus.
  1. The angel wants hearts prepared and ready to receive what God is about to do.

Is your mind and heart prepared to receive the information about what God did through Jesus? Our culture has so overlaid the gospel with other thoughts and opinions that sometimes it takes moving some junk out of the way so we can see the reality. I hope and pray that as we study Luke’s account we will be ready to answer the question: who is this man?

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