Where God Is at Work

Explore the Bible Series

September 5, 2004


Background Passages: Luke 1:1-25, 57-80

Lesson Passages: Luke 1:11-20, 65-68,76-77


Introduction to the Gospel of Luke

            Authorship: Like all of the biblical accounts of the ministry of Christ, this gospel does not identify its author.  Conservative scholars have argued persuasively, however, that the physician and Pauline protégé Luke wrote this impressive account of the person and work of Christ.  In addition, it certainly appears that the same person who wrote this gospel also penned the Acts of the Apostles. 


Luke was, in all probability, a Gentile believer, and Paul identified him as a physician in Colossians 4:14.  Careful study of Acts indicates that Luke accompanied Paul on portions of the apostle’s second and third missionary journeys.  Four times in Acts the author used the personal pronoun “we” to refer to those in the Pauline missionary party.  These passages reveal that Luke enjoyed a close person and ministerial relationship with Paul.  Church tradition indicates that Luke was born in Syrian Antioch and was trained in classical literature and medicine.  In addition, many believe that Luke died as a martyr sometime after 75 A.D. 


Both the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles were written in classical Greek style and reveal excellent mastery of the Old Testament, an extensive knowledge of classical writing style, and outstanding Greek rhetorical skills.  More importantly, the author of this gospel demonstrates a deep devotion to the Lord Jesus and profound concern for accuracy in recording the ministry of the Savior.


            Date: Most conservative scholars believe that Luke was the third gospel written by the apostolic community. Mark and Matthew probably predated Luke, and the Gospel of John was written a number of years later than the Synoptics.  The best evidence seems to point to a composition date prior to 70 A.D.  


            Recipient: The Gospel of Luke and Acts were both addressed to a man named Theophilus.  Scholars disagree about this man’s identity.  Some believe that this name, which means “One who loves God”, may symbolically refer to a host of Gentile believers. Others think this name is a pseudonym for a particular Gentile who had come to faith in Christ and needed additional information about the life and teachings of the Lord.  Still other scholars believe that the name Theophilus is a proper name that refers to a person of high social status in the Roman Empire.  Luke’s reference to “most excellent Theophilus” points, in my judgment, to the third option.  Perhaps Luke wrote this book to promote the spiritual growth of Theophilus and to enhance this man’s ability to give a faithful witness to the life of Jesus.


            Uniqueness:  Bible students owe a great debt the author of this gospel.  While remaining faithful to the gospel tradition of Mark and Matthew, Luke recorded several important features of Christ’s life and teaching that the other writers did not include in their accounts.  If not for Luke’s work, Christians would not have a record of the nativity narrative, the account of Jesus’ boyhood debate with the Jewish religious leaders, the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the Parable of the Good Samaritan, the story of Zaccheus, or the story of the Lord’s post-resurrection encounter with the disciples on the road to Emmaus. 


I.                   The Promise of the Forerunner (Luke 1:5-25)

A.     The character of Zacharias and Elisabeth (1:5-7)

1.      The events recorded in this chapter occurred during the waning years of the long reign of King Herod the Great (c.4 B.C.).  This ungodly man ruled as a Roman procurator of Judea.  This Idumean monarch ruled for over forty years, and he did so with great cruelty and bloodshed.

2.      Zacharias was an aged priest who lived with his godly wife in the hill country of Judea.  The Jewish priesthood was organized into twenty-four divisions, and Zacharias belonged to the division of Abijah.  There were so many priests in Judea that a man like Zacharias only had one opportunity in his lifetime to minister in the Temple.  In his senior years, this godly man reached the high water mark of his life. Of course, he could never have anticipated the remarkable experience that awaited him during his ministrations in the Holy Place of the Temple

B.     The Appearance of the Angel to Zacharias (1:8-25)                                   1.  The angel Gabriel appeared to Zacharias during the priest’s ministrations in the Holy Place.  Gabriel stood to the right of the altar of incense, and he announced to Zacharias that the Lord had heard the prayers of the aged couple, and they would soon have a son.  Perhaps the promise of answered prayer centered on Zacharias’ petitions for a child.  No doubt these dear saints had prayed for a child for many years; however, now that they had long passed the time of normal conception, perhaps they had discontinued asking for a child.  The text indicates that God had remembered their years of petition, and now they would receive the answer they had long desired. However, the angel may have referred to the immediate prayers Zacharias offered as he burned incense in the Temple.  The prayers that priests made during their Temple duties would have focused on the fulfillment of promises concern the Messiah.  The Lord, through the miraculous appearance of Gabriel, pledged a glorious response to the fervent supplications of his servants.  The son that Elisabeth would bare would be no ordinary son; rather, this man would serve as the forerunner of the Messiah. He would come in the spirit of Elijah and would fulfill the glorious promises that God had made to his people four hundred years ago (See Malachi 4:4-6)

Note: The phrase, “And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children…” proves a bit difficult to interpret.  It could mean that the coming of the Forerunner would bring healing to broken parent/child relationships; however, the text probably has a different meaning.  Perhaps it means that John’s generation would be reconciled to the godliness and testimony of their Jewish ancestral fathers.  If we take this position on the passage, the text would indicate that John’s work would create a kind of solidarity and unity between his generation and the godly Jewish people of the past

2.       Sadly, the initial fear of Zacharias quickly gave way to unbelief.  He expressed his doubt to Gabriel, and the angel responded in two ways.  First, he asserted his position as one who stood in the presence of God and was sent to speak this good news to Zacharias.  Second, the angel declared that Zacharias remain dumb until the birth of the child.  Verse sixty-two seems to point out that Zacharias could not hear either; thus, his friends had to make hand motions to him concerning the name given to the infant.

3.      After this miraculous occurrence in the Temple, Zacharias and Elisabeth returned to their home in the hill country of Judea.  Just as the angel had promised, Elisabeth conceived and she received a tender and encouraging visit from her relative Mary.


II.                The Circumcision of John the Baptist (Luke 1:57-66)

A.     Though the conception of John was quite miraculous, the birth followed a normal pattern.  When Elisabeth’s time came, she gave birth to a son, and the couple’s friends gathered to celebrate the joyous occasion.

B.     The friends anticipated that Zacharias and Elisabeth would select a family name for the child, but Zacharias insisted that the boy would be named John, just as the angel had revealed.


III.             The Benedictus of Zacharias (Luke 1:67-80)

A.     The first portion of Zacharias’ hymn of praise focuses on the coming Messiah.  God, he predicted, was visiting his people with redemption and the power (horn) of salvation.  Verse sixty-nine refers to the house of David (tribe of Judah); thus, these words cannot refer to John (Tribe of Levi). 

B.     Not only would the coming Promised One bring salvation to his people, but he would also fulfill all of the Messianic predictions of the Old Testament.  The Christocentric nature of Zacharias’ praise continues in verses seventy-six and following, but he does mention the role that John the Baptist would play in God’s redemptive plan.  He will serve as the prophet of the Lord and prepare the way for him.  After a sentence or two about John, Zacharias returned to the theme of the glorious redeemer that God had promised.  The dawn of grace now appeared on the horizon of history, and soon a Great Light would shine in a dark and sinful world.  This glorious Light would bring salvation to those who sat in darkness, dispel the gloom and shadow of death, and illumine the way of peace.