We infer from Paul's letters that Luke was a qualified physician (Col. 4:14) and we may assume that he was not a Jew, since Paul does not include him among "those of the circumcision" (Colossians 4:11). He joined Paul at Troas to journey into Macedonia as far as Philippi. He is not mentioned on the second missionary journey but is found to be with Paul on the third missionary journey. Luke is also the writer of the book of Acts.
1:1-2 Now many have undertaken to compile an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, like the accounts passed on to us by those who were eyewitnesses and servants of the word from the beginning.
In commencing his gospel Luke says that many believer's had attempted to write about the life of Jesus Christ having received their information from those who had been eyewitnesses of all the events that had occurred and the teachings they had received from Lord Jesus Christ and who had faithfully passed it on.
1:3-4 So it seemed good to me as well, because I have followed all things carefully from the beginning, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know for certain the things you were taught.
Having considered the need for a full orderly account Luke had closely investigated everything from the beginning (starting with John the Baptist's conception). It may well be that Luke was able to interview some of the surviving witnesses personally; and these might have included Mary and Peter (Luke seems to know more about their stories than Matthew does). Luke dedicates the result of his work to someone called Theophilus, about whom we know nothing; except to say that his name means ‘lover of God’. Luke wanted this person, and every ‘lover of God’ to know that their faith was based on certain corroborated facts; and he arranged these facts in such a way as to instruct his converts in the truths of the Christian faith..
The Conception of John the Baptist
1:5 During the reign of Herod king of Judea, there lived a priest named Zechariah who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah, and he had a wife named Elizabeth, who was a descendant of Aaron.
Luke sets the time as being in the days of Herod Antipas, sometimes called Herod the Great, who had been installed as king of Judea by the Roman Emperor; and begins his story in the Temple of God in Jerusalem. At that time there was a priest serving in the Temple from the division of Abijah named Zechariah. The divisions of the priests were appointed by King David for serving in the temple (1 Chron. 24:10). Zechariah’s wife was Elizabeth a descendent of Aaron the first high priest.
1:6 They were both righteous in the sight of God, following all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blamelessly.
Luke draws our attention to the fact that both Elizabeth and Zechariah were righteous in the eyes of God and lived blameless lives according to the law and commandments of the Lord. Luke accepts that the Jews were the chosen people of God, and that their laws, and Temple worship had been given to them by God. One of Luke’s purposes in showing that Jesus was born as part of a right-living community of Jews is to show how he was born as the fulfilment of all God’s promises to Israel, to redeem them from the law (Gal. 4:4-5) and become the centre of their worship (John 4:24) as well as the whole world’s worship (Mat. 2:2). Luke first shows Jesus to be the Saviour of Israel (the Messiah) and later reveals that he is not only Israel’s Saviour but the Saviour of the entire world (Isa. 49:6).
1:7 But they did not have a child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both very old.
By describing Zechariah and Elizabeth’s situation Luke is deliberately reminding us of an earlier couple to whom God made many promises. Like Zechariah and Elizabeth, Abram and Sara had not child, for Sara like Elizabeth was barren. It was the same God who gave his promise to Abram, and fulfilled it in Isaac who would now give Elizabeth the power to conceive. This reminder is intended to show that the time had come for God to fulfil of his promise to Abram (Gal. 3:16; Luke 1:68-72). The child of Elizabeth and Zechariah would herald the arrival of the ‘descendent’ of Abraham whom the prophets had spoken of in various ways as God’s servant and son and Israel’s king.
1:8-9 Now while Zechariah was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the holy place of the Lord and burn incense.
Whilst Zechariah was serving in the temple according to the order of his division, the lot fell to him to enter the holy place and burn incense (it was customary among the priests to draw lots to decide who which of them might have this privilege).
1:10 Now the whole crowd of people were praying outside at the hour of the incense offering.
Recall that only the priests were allowed to enter the holy place to offer incense (Num. 3:10; 16:40), and so whilst Zechariah was inside the temple of God the crowds of people were praying outside.
1:11-12 An angel of the Lord, standing on the right side of the altar of incense, appeared to him. And Zechariah, visibly shaken when he saw the angel, was seized with fear.
As Zechariah performed his priestly office, he was shaken by the appearance of an angel standing in the holy place; and overwhelmed with fear.
1:13-14 But the angel said to him, "Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son; you will name him John. Joy and gladness will come to you, and many will rejoice at his birth.
The angel reassures him that there is no need to be afraid for he is a messenger from God to bring him good news. God had heard his and Elizabeth's persistent prayers for a child (Luke 11:9). In the first place, the angel had come to announce the birth of John as the answer to their prayers, who would give them a great deal of pride and joy. But the angel also wanted Zechariah to know that John’s birth was of a much wider significance in God’s plan, and that many people would one day be glad that he had been born.
1:15-16 For he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth. He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God.
The child to be born would become exceedingly great in the sight of the Lord, thus taking a place in God’s purposes which was equivalent to that of Moses or Elijah. Like Samson, he was to be placed under the vow of a Nazarite from birth, and so was never to drink wine or any alcoholic drink (Numbers 6:2-3). This kind of vow was meant to indicate complete dedication of the life to God. Most unusually, John would be filled with the Holy Spirit while he was still in Elizabeth's womb and because of his preaching the Word of God many people in Israel will repent and return to the Lord their God. No wonder Jesus described him as the greatest prophet to be born of a woman (Luke 7:27-28).
1:17 And he will go as forerunner before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared for him.
Although John was to have a prominent place in the working out of God’s purposes, yet these purposes did not centre on John. His mission was to prepare the way for the Lord Jesus Christ (Luke 3:4). The allusion to his walking in the spirit and power of Elijah is not a reference to his ability to work miracles (for John never worked a miracle – John 10:41), but rather to confront iniquity as Elijah did on Carmel, bringing the nation back to God in repentance. John would exhibit the same lifestyle and zeal for truth as Elijah had; rebuking sin and exhorting to repentance. Through him many parents, children and those who were rebellious would accept the wisdom of the godly and turn back to God (Mal. 4:5-6).
1:18 Zechariah said to the angel, "How can I be sure of this? For I am an old man, and my wife is old as well."
Unfortunately, unlike Abraham who had believed God’s promise, Zechariah could not believe the angel's words, and asked for proof, since he believed he and Elizabeth were too old for this to happen.
1:19-20 The angel answered him, "I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will be silent, unable to speak, until the day these things take place."
In reply, the angel reveals his name--‘Gabriel’ meaning "the might of the strong God" (Clarke)—and his position ‘I stand in the presence of God’. As such he is the messenger of God sent directly from his presence to bring the good news to Zechariah. By implication, failing to believe Gabriel’s words was a failure to believe God, and so as a consequence of his unbelief, Zechariah was struck dumb and would not be able to speak again until John the Baptist was born.
1:21 Now the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they began to wonder why he was delayed in the holy place.
Meanwhile the people outside had begun to wonder why Zechariah was taking so long inside the temple.
1:22 When he came out, he was not able to speak to them. They realized that he had seen a vision in the holy place, because he was making signs to them and remained unable to speak.
When he finally came out and they discovered that he could not speak to them, they understood by the signs he made that he had seen some kind of vision in the temple.
1:23 When his time of service was over, he went to his home.
When Zechariah reached the end of his service, he returned home.
1:24-25 After some time his wife Elizabeth became pregnant, and for five months she kept herself in seclusion. She said, "This is what the Lord has done for me at the time when he has been gracious to me, to take away my disgrace among people."
Soon after this Elizabeth became pregnant and didn't go out in public for five months. It may be that she was taking good care of herself, now that she was to be a mother. I remember my mother telling me an old wives tale that we shouldn’t by clothes for our baby until after the first 6 months of pregnancy because so many children were lost before then.
On the other hand, some commentators have supposed that Elizabeth wanted to wait until her pregnancy was showing before letting others see her – a kind of evidence to them of what she knew, in case they refuse to believe her. Whatever the case, Elizabeth gladly acknowledged that it was the Lord who had healed her of barrenness and enabled her to conceive therefore taking away her disgrace among the people. In those days and in that culture, to have children was considered to be a blessing from God and a fulfilment of His promise of fruitfulness (Lev. 26:9); whilst to be barren was considered by some to be a sign of God's displeasure.
Gabriel's Announcement to Mary
1:26-27 In the sixth month of Elizabeth's pregnancy, the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, a descendant of David, and the virgin's name was Mary.
Six months after Elizabeth had become pregnant God sent Gabriel to Mary who lived in Nazareth in Galilee. She was a virgin promised in marriage to Joseph who was descendent of King David. At this point Luke introduces us to another important theme in his gospel – for since Joseph was a descendent of David, the child born to Mary would be considered to have come from David’s family line, from which God had promised to raise up a king (Psa. 132:11); and hence Luke identifies Jesus as the child named in Isaiah 9:6-7.
1:28-29 The angel came to her and said, "Greetings, favored one, the Lord is with you!" But she was greatly troubled by his words and began to wonder about the meaning of this greeting.
When the angel entered into her house he greeted her by saying "Rejoice! The grace of the Lord is upon you". Mary was not chosen on her merit, as she realised herself in verse 48; it was by grace that God had chosen her. It is important to note, however, that both Joseph and Mary were God-fearing Jews who lived according to God’s commands. These words greatly disturbed Mary for she could understand neither what the angel meant nor why he had appeared to her.
1:30-31 So the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God! Listen: You will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus
As in the case of Zachariah, Gabriel reassures Mary that she has found grace in the sight of God. Then he makes known to her the startling news that she would become pregnant and give birth to a son and that he was to be given the name Jesus (or Jeshua) which signifies God’s salvation. This is the name God had identified with the branch that rises out of Jesse in Isaiah 11:1 and Zechariah 6:11-12.
1:32-33 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and his kingdom will never end."
"He shall be great" in every way: in wisdom, power and glory, for he shall be the Son of God. God will give him permanent possession of the throne of his ancestor David (Matt. 1:1 and 1 Kings 2:4) and he will reign over Israel forever; an indication that Israel shall never have another king after him- he is ‘king forever ceasing never over us all to reign.’
1:34 Mary said to the angel, "How will this be, since I have not had sexual relations with a man?"
Luke is referring back to Isaiah 7:14, where the word ‘virgin’ may in fact refer to any young woman. Luke includes this verse to clarify that Mary was a virgin in the sexual sense - she had never had sexual intercourse with a man; and that is why she could not understand how she could become pregnant.
1:35 The angel replied, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called the Son of God.
The angel made it quite clear to Mary that her conception would not involve the seed of man. For the Holy Spirit will come upon her, so that the conception would be brought about by the power of the Most High and the child born would be the holy Son of God. What Luke has in mind here is the incarnation, when God became flesh and dwelt among us. This is also the reason why Jesus was without sin: only descendants of Adam were born in sin, Christ came from above.
1:36-37 And look, your relative Elizabeth has also become pregnant with a son in her old age — although she was called barren, she is now in her sixth month! For nothing will be impossible with God.
Another important link that Luke makes here is to show how Mary was a relative of Elizabeth (who you will recall came from the family of Aaron, Israel’s first High Priest). This is important because it provides a link between Luke’s portrayal of Christ as a king and as a priestly servant of God. Gabriel tells Mary that Elizabeth is six months pregnant although elderly and barren; for nothing is ever impossible with God (Jer. 32:27).
1:38 So Mary said, "Yes, I am a servant of the Lord; let this happen to me according to your word." Then the angel departed from her.
Mary humbly submits herself to obey the message from the Lord (I am the Lord’s servant) and confesses her belief in Gabriel's announcement to her. Then the angel left.
Mary's Visit to Elizabeth
1:39-40 In those days Mary got up and went hurriedly into the hill country, to a town of Judah, and entered Zechariah's house and greeted Elizabeth.
After the angel Gabriel had departed from Mary she immediately set out on her journey to visit Elizabeth who lived in the mountainous area of Judea. On entering the house of Zacharias her greeting to Elizabeth had a startling effect.
1:41 When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.
As soon as Elizabeth heard the greeting the baby leaped in her womb at the voice of Mary who had now conceived the Messiah. Elizabeth herself was filled with the Holy Spirit; presumably because the child in her
womb had been filled (John 1:15).
1:42-43 She exclaimed with a loud voice, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child in your womb! And who am I that the mother of my Lord should come and visit me?
Under this anointing of the Holy Spirit Elizabeth pronounces her benediction on Mary, that she was the most highly honoured among women to be the mother of the blessed baby in her womb. It seemed incredible to Elizabeth that she should share in the privilege accorded to Mary; that the woman whom God had chosen to bear His Son should visit her. Elizabeth acknowledges that the child that Mary carries is her Lord.
1:44 For the instant the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.
Elizabeth mentions that she knew Mary was the mother of her Lord because her baby had jumped for joy within her. Remember, John’s parents had already been told that he would be filled with the Holy Spirit in his mother’s womb.
1:45 And blessed is she who believed that what was spoken to her by the Lord would be fulfilled."
Concluding her benediction, Elizabeth notes that Mary is greatly blessed because she had believed what the Lord had spoken to her, and his promise would be fulfilled. It is perhaps noteworthy that in Luke’s narrative Mary had not (so far as we can see) yet told Elizabeth about her encounter with Gabriel, giving us the impression that Elizabeth knew the facts of that meeting by the inspiration of the Spirit.
Mary's Song of Praise
1:46-47 And Mary said, "My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit has begun to rejoice in God my Savior."
Mary responded with the words ‘My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour’ which reveal that she was completely taken up with God at this time of divine influence in her life. She acknowledges God as her Saviour; although at this time she may not have understood this word in the sense Christians have since come to use it.
1:48-49 Because he has looked upon the humble state of his servant. For from now on all generations will call me blessed. Because he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
The salvation Mary speaks of seems to be a reference to how God had chosen her, a woman of low position, for an important task. In the natural Mary may have had very little to rejoice in God about – but now that he had blessed her, she could not stop rejoicing and praising. And what a way to be blessed - to bring forth God’s Son, the Saviour of the world; which is why all generations would call her blessed (not a reference to her position but her privilege). It would not be because of who she is or what she had done that people would call her blessed, but because of what God whose name is holy has done for her.
1:50 From generation to generation he is merciful to those who fear him.
Mary knew that she was not alone in being a recipient of God’s mercy. Throughout all time, God shows his compassion and kindness to all those who fear Him; who listen with tender hearts to believe and obey his word, as Mary had done. Through the child Mary would bear, God would reveal his love and mercy for the whole world.
1:51-52 He has demonstrated power with his arm; he has scattered those whose pride wells up from the sheer arrogance of their hearts. He has brought down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up those of lowly position.
There is nothing God cannot do, and when he reached out his hand to do something by his mighty power, because he has willed to do it, there is no one who can stop him. The actions of God scatter and humiliate the haughty in spirit, for they do not have the control over their lives which they had thought – their every breath is in the hand of God. Mary exults in that God had not chosen some rich and powerful princess to bear his son, but an ordinary, poor and hard-working maid. It is in the nature of the majestically exalted and yet lowly-hearted God to overthrow mighty kings and instead to lift up the humble (Isaiah 57:15, 66:2; 1 Peter 5:6), supremely by his action of sending his only begotten son into the world, not to a palace but into a lowly family from Nazareth; into the arms of Mary.
1:53 He has filled the hungry with good things, and has sent the rich away empty.
Those who are full do not look to be filled, and the people who consider they have enough do not receive from God. The poor however know that they are in need and are ready to receive. God gives the hungry good food, the kind that is spiritual and eternal (Psa. 34:10 and Psa. 107:8-9) but has sent the rich and complacent away with empty hands.
1:54-55 He has helped his servant Israel, remembering his mercy, as he promised to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever."
Just as Luke has so far sought to place Jesus birth in the context of a believing Jewish family, so Mary also highlights that the promises God had made to them as a people were being fulfilled in the coming of Jesus. Christ was the promised seed who would reconcile men to God.
1:56 So Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months and then returned to her home.
Mary stayed with Elizabeth until the birth of John the Baptist (three months) and might have witnessed John’s birth, although Luke does not make this clear. Since no mention is made of Mary in the rest of chapter one, she might have left just before the birth of John.
The Birth of John the Baptist
1:57-58 Now the time came for Elizabeth to have her baby, and she gave birth to a son. Her neighbours and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.
When the time came, Elizabeth gave birth to a son just as the angel Gabriel had said; and all her neighbours and relatives heard God had been merciful in healing her barrenness, and they gathered to share her joy.
1:59-61 On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they wanted to name him Zechariah after his father. But his mother replied, "No! He must be named John." They said to her, "But none of your relatives bears this name."
According to the Law of Moses, when the boy was eight days old they took him to the synagogue to be circumcised (Genesis 17:10-14). They were about to call him Zacharias after his father, but Elizabeth stopped them, insisting that his name was John. The people could not understand why she would choose a name other than that of her husband or another respected relative.
1:62-63 So they made signs to the baby's father, inquiring what he wanted to name his son. He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, "His name is John." And they were all amazed.
It is strange to think that they made signs to Zechariah to ask what name he wanted to give his son, for he was not, so far as we know, deaf, only dumb. Another translation puts they asked him. In reply, he motioned for them to give him a writing tablet and he wrote on it that the child’s name was John.
1:64 Immediately Zechariah's mouth was opened and his tongue released, and he spoke, blessing God.
As soon as Zechariah had done this, as the angel had previously commanded him, his speech was restored and he began praising God.
1:65 All their neighbours were filled with fear, and throughout the entire hill country of Judea all these things were talked about.
Great awe fell on all those who were present and on all throughout the Judean hills who heard the news of what had happened.
1:66 All who heard these things kept them in their hearts, saying, "What then will this child be?" For the Lord's hand was indeed with him.
Clearly, the people thought that the manner of John’s birth and naming, involving Zechariah’s vision, dumbness and subsequent healing foreshowed that God would be involved in this child’s life – and they wondered for what purpose God would raise him up. The only other children since the patriarchs whose birth was spoken of in such terms in the Scriptures were Moses, Samson and Samuel, all great judges and prophets. And indeed throughout his life from childhood, God’s hand was with him.
1:67 Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied.
Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied concerning his son in terms of his God given mission of preparing the way for the long awaited Messiah, Jesus; and so he begins by praising God for the coming Messianic kingdom.
1:68 "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, because he has come to help and has redeemed his people.
Zechariah first praises God for visiting His people. The birth of John announced that the coming near of Go din the person of the Messiah was imminent. Zechariah further reveals the purpose of this coming; he (God, through the Messiah) has come to redeem His people and Zechariah’s new-born child would grow to announce this coming to Israel.
1:69-71 For he has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from long ago. That we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all who hate us.
A ‘horn’ is a figure for a mighty deliverer; a king from the lineage of David (Psa. 18:2). In Zechariah’s eyes he would save the people of Israel from their enemies, just as God had made known through His prophets since the world began (Acts 3:21-24). Perhaps Zechariah especially has in mind the first prophecy in the Bible (verse 70 can read ‘since the world began’), where the enemy who brought sin, death and estrangement from God into the world is depicted as being defeated by the Messiah, and the effects of his work are undone (Gen. 3:15; 1 John 3:8).
1:72 He has done this to show mercy to our ancestors, and to remember his holy covenant.
He is fulfilling His promise of mercy that He made to Israel’s forefathers (especially Abraham) and has remembered the covenant He had made with them; a covenant which Paul explains was to be made with all people through one of Abraham’s descendants -the Messiah (Gal. 3:15-17).
1:73-75 The oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham. This oath grants that we, being rescued from the hand of our enemies, may serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him for as long as we live.
Indeed, Zechariah elaborates on what he has said already. This is the covenant which He made with Abraham after he offered up his son Isaac (Gen. 22:16-17), granting Israel deliverance from sin so that they could serve Him in holiness, consecration and righteousness (Eph. 4:24) without any fear (Isa. 45:17).
1:76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High. For you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways.
Zechariah’s prophesy now turns to John, who would be called the prophet of the Most High for he will go before the Lord Jesus Christ preparing the way for Him (Mal. 3:1 and Mal. 4:5).
1:77 To give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins.
John was to make known the way of salvation to the people, firstly through preaching that they should repent in order to be ready for the Messiah; and then by pointing him out to them, the one who would forgive their sins (Luke 3:3).
1:78 Because of our God's tender mercy the dawn will break upon us from on high.
Thus the mission of John and that of Christ would be accomplished by God's tender love, mercy and grace. What is more, the time is imminent for Messiah’s appearing; the sun is about to rise for a new day of grace.
1:79 To give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.
Through the Messiah’s coming, God will cause his light to shine into the hearts of those who are lost in the darkness of sin and held captive by the fear of death (Eph. 5:8 and Heb. 2:15); leading sinners into the way of peace (Eph. 2:14).
1:80 And the child kept growing and becoming strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he was revealed to Israel.
John grew up and become spiritually strong, that is mature his knowledge, understanding and strength of the Lord. He lived in isolation in the desert until the time came for him make himself known to Israel.
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