Luke writes his gospel to confirm the certainty of the teachings Theophilus has heard. Central to that teaching is the coming of Jesus, who offers salvation both to the Jews and also the Gentiles. This Jesus, according to the angel from God, will be—and is—the Son of the Most High.
Luke tells us in the prologue to his story of Jesus, that he is attempting an orderly account of Jesus. Based on the introduction to the book of Acts, we also understand that this story—a two volume work—actually spans beyond just the earthly life of Jesus through the life of the early church. The purpose of his writing is so that Theophilus (for whom we know nothing beyond what we see here in the introduction) might be certain of that which he has been taught. Said another way, this account serves to bolster Theophilus’ faith.
Many Lukan scholars point out that the occasion of Luke’s gospel probably was to address a sense of uncertainty that existed in the life of both Jews and Gentiles following the death of Jesus. The perception of the coming Messiah, for many, was rooted in the idea of an earthly king who would conquer any nation ruling over Israel, in this case, Rome. Obviously a death on a cross did not exactly fit their understanding of what was to happen. As time continued, there was also a tension between Jews who followed their traditional teachings and Jews and Gentiles who moved more along the path of what we would call Christianity. When the tensions around you are high and people seem opposed to you at every turn, you begin to ask yourself: Is this really the right way to go? Luke’s account of Jesus and his people attempts to address the tension that was felt by these people.
The first chapter of Luke follows two stories that converge at the birth of Jesus: the life of John and his parents and the life of Jesus and (primarily) his mother, Mary. If you separate these stories and lay them side-by-side, you will discover that while parallel, they do not always align as far as the responses of each individual. For instance, Zechariah doubts God’s announcement of a child and is made mute. Mary, on the other hand, trusts God and proclaims: “I am the Lord’s servant.” Mary is the model disciple.
The angel Gabriel is considered in Jewish thought as the angel who brings news regarding the end times; he is the apocalyptic angel, if you will. Much of this thought comes from Gabriel’s role as a messenger in Daniel 9-11. Given this way of thinking, there would have been a possibility that the early readers of Luke’s gospel would have understood the announcements Gabriel is making in Luke 1 as having to do with end times sorts of things. This would not have been in the sense that he is describing a battle, but rather, in that these two individuals who will be born affect the coming kingdom of God. Whether they knew it or not, as we read through Luke and Acts we discover this is certainly true.
We are probably familiar with the story of Jesus’ birth, even though we do not celebrate Christmas in September. Do not overlook the surprise of the nature of his birth, however. Luke includes the birth narrative, along with Matthew, while Mark and John do not. What is so significant about this story that Luke feels the need to tell it? For Luke, it is the manifestation of one who is to bring salvation to God’s people Israel and God’s people the Gentiles, even though they are not named as “God’s people” in the same way the Israelites are. I think also the humble beginnings of Jesus’ earthly life add to the power of Jesus’ offer of salvation.
Simeon and Anna serve to give credibility to this human Jesus, who is named as the one to bring salvation. Both of these elderly Jews are said to be looking for a coming Messiah and their interaction with Jesus and his parents and their blessing of this child affirm he is indeed that one. Simeon is also the one who quotes the prophet Isaiah who speaks of the one to come as a “light for revelation to the Gentiles.” The focus of God’s saving grace, while always much broader than just the Jewish people, has now been identified as salvation for “all.”
You wonder what Mary knew about Jesus’ role as the Son of God growing up. Obviously this child was uniquely called, but were there things in his growing up years that would have been “different” from other children? You get a sense from the account of Mary finding Jesus in the temple that this event seemed “out of the norm.” We as Luke’s readers are reminded that Jesus’ role on earth was tied to the will of his Father.
Every week our lessons will include seven questions (really question sets) that you may either pick and choose those questions that best suit your family unit, or you may use one question set for each day. I will include, if applicable, the section of text related to that specific question set in parenthesis.
- Luke begins his gospel by telling us that he is writing an “orderly account” he “investigated” through “eyewitnesses and servants of the word.” If you were going to write an account about someone, perhaps a family member, what would you do to prepare for your writing? What sort of things do you think you would include? Why are these things important? In what ways does an orderly account help verify the certainty of things you have been taught? How have people helped your certainty of faith up to this point in your life? (1.1-4)
- When the angel of the Lord appears to Zechariah, he tells him: “Do not be afraid.” Yeah, right. How do you think you would have reacted to the appearance of this angel? How do you think you would have reacted to the news the angel brings? In what ways do you think Zechariah’s doubt and questioning of the angel was a normal response? In what ways do you think it shows a lack of faith that he should have had? (1.5-25)
- When the angel of the Lord appears to Mary, we are told it is the angel Gabriel. Gabriel was known from the Old Testament (see Daniel 9-11) as the angel who brought news about the end times. In what ways would Gabriel’s announcement to Mary qualify as message about the end times? How did Mary respond to the angel’s appearance? What do we find out about Mary’s son through the angel’s message? How does Mary’s response compare to Zechariah’s response? (1.26-45)
- Describe what you see in what has been called “The Magnificat,” which is the Latin word for “magnify” in Mary’s song. What are the subjects she addresses and how does she describe them? What does her song tell you about the way you praise God in your own life? How does Mary’s song compare to Zechariah’s song? (1.46-80)
- How would you expect the Son of God or a messenger from God to appear to the people who live on earth? How does your thinking compare to how Jesus actually does appear? Why was it important for Jesus to come to this earth as a human? In what ways does Jesus’ human nature reassure your faith and trust in him? (2.1-21)
- The characters of Simeon and Anna serve as witnesses to the credibility of Jesus as the Son of the Most High. In what ways would their testimony or affirmation of Jesus affected the Jewish people reading Luke’s gospel? We are told they were anticipating “the consolation of Israel,” that is, the coming of the Messiah. How did his (and Anna’s) anticipation change the way they lived life? In what ways do you anticipate the coming of Jesus and his power through the Holy Spirit? In what ways has this anticipation changed your life? (2.22-40)
- Mary is surprised to find the adolescent Jesus in the temple learning from—and teaching—the teachers. Jesus, however, seems surprised that Mary was surprised. Should Mary have been surprised or should she have understood this to be a central component of Jesus’ life? In what ways should we be focused on being in our “Father’s house,” or perhaps stated more accurately, being about our Father’s business? Is doing the will of God a central focus in our life, or just one of many things we do? How can we be sure to give it appropriate priority today and every day?
Every week this section will list possible activities you and your family unit can do. You may pick one or perhaps do several during the course of a week. All are intended to be suitable for any age.
- Throughout the first chapter of Luke, the author intentionally aligns in parallel form the stories of John and his family with Jesus and his family. Use a photocopy or printed copy of Luke 1 and move these stories side by side, so as to see the parallelism. Compare each of the stories with its counterpart. What emphasis do you see based on the differences between these two similar stories?
- The birth narrative of Jesus has similarities to birth announcement stories we find in the Old Testament. Compare Luke 1-2 with Judges 13.2-7 and 1 Samuel 1-3. How are these stories similar? How are they different? How do you think the Jewish people would have reacted to Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth, knowing what they did about the birth of Samson and Samuel? What sort of knowledge can we glean from understanding and comparing these three stories?
- Create your own song praising God for the things he has done, similar to the way that Mary praised God in Luke 1.46-55. Perhaps you might even want to pick a known tune and write lyrics for the song that magnify God.
- Often times we think of Jesus’ birth only around the time of Christmas. While it is not winter, celebrate Christmas in September. Get or make a small Christmas tree, including ornaments. As you think of reasons to celebrate the arrival of Jesus in the flesh on earth, write down that reason on an ornament and hang it on your tree. We are told Jesus was the one who brought redemption and salvation to his people. Use this idea to generate thoughts about the ways Jesus has offered you salvation. Write these things on your ornament and hang them on your tree.
- Find a copy of The ZOE Group’s song “Magnificat” from their album In Christ Alone. (You can download it here on iTunes.) Listen to the song. How does this song better help you understand the emotion and response of Mary? You may also want to find other songs based on this passage (Look up Magnificat and you will find several – both contemporary and classical pieces.) Listen to this and determine how accurate these songs are to the Biblical text (especially if they have lyrics) and how well they communicate the emotion of this passage.
- Live this week reminding yourself in any and every situation: “I am the Lord’s servant.” Don’t just say it, do it.
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This work by South Plains Church of Christ and Robert A. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attributions-NonCommerical-NoDerivatives 4.0 International license.
Scripture quotations taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. ™ Used by permission. All rights reserved.