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THE EARLY LIFE OF JESUS
1. Luke’s introduction (Luke 1:1-4)
Of the four Gospel writers, Luke is the only one who introduces his book by setting out briefly the circumstances of his writing. He wanted to prepare an account of the life and ministry of Jesus, but unlike others who prepared similar books, he was not an eye witness of the things about which he wrote. He therefore could prepare his book only after careful research (Luke 1:1-3). He wrote for a person of rank named Theophilus, to give him a reliable account of who Jesus was and what he had done (Luke 1:4). (Concerning Theophilus see also ‘The Writing of the Gospels’.)
2. Birth of John the Baptist foretold (Luke 1:5-25)
Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, was a priest. Because all male descendants of Aaron were priests, there were, even in Old Testament times, too many priests for the amount of work to be done. David therefore divided them into twenty-four divisions, and each division served for two weeks each year. Zechariah belonged to the division of Abijah (Luke 1:5; cf. 1 Chronicles 24:1-19). (All priests would be required for duty during the Feasts of Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles, which together would account for the remaining four weeks of the year; cf. Exodus 23:14-17.)
Each morning and each evening one priest was chosen by lot to go into the temple and burn incense while the people outside prayed. Priests valued this duty as something they would probably do only once in a lifetime; but for Zechariah the joy of the occasion was mixed with personal disappointment, as his own prayers had not been answered. He and his wife Elizabeth had prayed for many years that God would give them a child, but they were still childless (Luke 1:6-10).
While Zechariah was carrying out his priestly duties, God showed him that his prayers would now be answered. Elizabeth would have a child, to be named John, who would become a special messenger from God to his people. He would be equipped by God’s Spirit for his ministry, and he would live under the restrictions of a person set apart for God (Luke 1:11-15; cf. Numbers 6:1-8). John’s task was to call the people of Israel to repentance. If they responded to his preaching, they would be united in spirit with their ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and would be ready to welcome the Messiah (Luke 1:16-17; cf. Malachi 4:5-6).
Although Zechariah had the faith to pray, he did not have the faith to believe the answer to his prayer. As a chastisement for his lack of faith, he became dumb for a period (Luke 1:18-22). God did not, however, withdraw his promise. When Zechariah’s time of service at the temple was over, he returned to his home, and soon Elizabeth became pregnant (Luke 1:23-25).
3. An angel prepares Mary (Luke 1:26-38)
Six months after Gabriel appeared to Zechariah in the temple in Jerusalem, the same angel appeared to Mary in the town of Nazareth in Galilee. Mary was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph (Luke 1:26-28). She was startled and puzzled when the angel told her that, though still a virgin, she would give birth to a son, and this son would be the promised Messiah. He would be in a unique sense God’s Son and his kingdom would be eternal (Luke 1:29-34). Mary’s pregnancy would come about not through any sexual relations with Joseph, but through the direct creative power of the Spirit of God. The son born to her would be of Adam’s race but free of any trace of Adam’s sin. He would not be one whom God merely adopted as his son, but one who was actually God’s Son. He would be the head of a new creation (Luke 1:35).
Mary knew that in the eyes of the public her pregnancy would spoil her honourable reputation, but she humbly submitted herself to the will of God. If she had any doubts about what God could do, Elizabeth’s recent experience might have been an encouragement to her. The two women were close relatives (Luke 1:36-38).
4. Mary visits Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-56)
With the time drawing near when Elizabeth would give birth, Mary travelled south to visit her. The honour that Elizabeth gave to Mary at their meeting was symbolic of the honour that John would give to Jesus (Luke 1:39-45).
Mary’s song of praise reflects her total submission and deep gratitude to God for what he was doing through her. The song (sometimes called the ‘Magnificat’, from the opening words in the Latin version) has many similarities to the song of Hannah, whose son Samuel was also a gift from God in unusual circumstances (cf. 1 Samuel 2:1-10). Mary begins by recalling God’s love in choosing her, an ordinary human being, to be the means of bringing his blessing to humankind (Luke 1:46-49). God did not use the rich, the mighty or the proud, but the poor and lowly who feared him (Luke 1:50-53). In showing grace to Mary and mercy to Israel, God was being faithful to the promises he gave to Israel’s ancestors (Luke 1:54-56; cf. Genesis 12:1-3).
5. Birth of John the Baptist (Luke 1:57-80)
Elizabeth’s son was born amid much rejoicing, and eight days later was circumcised in accordance with the law of Israel. Circumcision was a minor surgical operation carried out on all Israelite baby boys, and was the covenant sign that Israel was God’s people. At this ceremony the child was usually given his name (Luke 1:57-60; cf. 2:21; Genesis 17:9-14; Leviticus 12:3). When relatives tried to interfere in the naming of the child, Zechariah proved his obedience to God by insisting that the child be named John. In response God removed Zechariah’s dumbness (Luke 1:61-66; cf. v. 13, 20).
Zechariah then broke forth in a hymn of praise to God. His first words of praise were not for his son, but for the Saviour whom his son would announce. This Saviour was the Davidic Messiah and the redeemer of his people. In accordance with the covenant God made with Abraham, the Messiah would deliver God’s people from bondage so that they might serve him in reverence, holiness and righteousness (Luke 1:67-75).
As he turned his attention to his own son, Zechariah was reminded that John’s task was to lead people from darkness to light through repentance of their sins. In this way he would correct the false ideas people had of the Messiah and prepare the way for them to welcome him. A new age would dawn (Luke 1:76-79). But before John could prepare others to receive the Messiah, he himself had to be prepared (Luke 1:80).
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Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on Luke 1". "Fleming's Bridgeway Bible Commentary". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20