Day 268 "Beyond Definition" Luke 1
September 26, 2021, 9:35 PM

Luke 268 “Beyond Definition” Luke 1

In what is one of the longest ‘pre-game shows’ in the Bible, this first chapter of Luke is all about the circumstances around the conception and birth of Jesus, and he is not even born yet over the course of the eighty verses included in this chapter. In the longest introduction to the life of Jesus in any of the gospels, Luke takes his time setting the stage for the birth of the Messiah. First Luke tells us the purpose of the book—to help a man named Theophilus learn the truth about Jesus in an ‘orderly fashion’. Part of that order includes origins, where Jesus came from, who Mary is, how she received the news of her pregnancy from the angel. And it is also about Jesus’s cousin, John (who becomes John the Baptizer), who is the result of another unexpected pregnancy for Elizabeth and Zechariah, John’s parents, who, like Abraham and Sarah, are considered too old to have a child.

Ok, that was a lot, wasn’t it? Imagine that I am writing my own 80 verses about the 80 verses in the first chapter of the book of Luke!

Note that the name of the person Luke writes to, Theophilus, is a Greek name which means “beloved of God” and it s theorized that he was a Roman soldier of rank. We’ll talk about this a bit more later on.

Note also the role that women already play in this book of the Bible. Luke seems to have a special place for women in the story of Jesus, and we see that quickly in this first chapter, in the introduction of both Elizabeth and Mary, in the beautiful song that Mary sings, a song full of the sure knowledge of who Jesus is, and who God intends for hm to be. Mary is a believer in Jesus even before he is born. Mary is an evangelist for Jesus even before he appears on the earth, so great is her faith.

Can I mention something that I seemed to have overlooked all these years and times reading this familiar passage? I never realized that the same angel appeared to both Mary and Zechariah. Honestly. Call me ridiculous, but I want to be sure and say this because it s amazing what we can miss and not even realize it. I found that detail important because it seemed as thought Gabriel was ‘assigned’ to this whole situation, and that is oddly comforting to me. I have no idea why, but the consistency of the same angel with the same story seems like a graceful way for God to break this news in the world.

We don’t hear anything about it, but imagine when Mary arrives at Elizabeth and Zechariah’s house—they can compare angel notes! But truly, it would be so affirming to have ‘met’ the same heavenly being, and it would provide a kind of confirmation that would bind these relatives together and also reveal to them how intertwined their children’s lives would be.

Then John is born to Elizabeth at her advanced age, and his father, Zechariah sings his own song of praise, much like Mary’s song at the conception of Jesus, a song of faith about his own son and about Jesus who is to be born just a few months after John. Zechariah believes in the coming Messiah even before he is born, and he knows that his own son, John, will be the prophet to prepare the way of Jesus in the world. And how will Zechariah’s son do this? By giving knowledge to the people about Jesus, and by forgiving the sins of the people (77). I emphasized that because we need to remember that only God, only God was ‘allowed’ to forgive sins. Zechariah spoke words of both hope and blasphemy to the people who listened to him. They were afraid of his words because they did not understand. Perhaps they were also afraid because they wanted so much to meet this John, because they knew they had so much in their lives that needed to be forgiven, but they were being held hostage by the legalistic, Pharisaical rules.

And now quickly to return to Theophilus, to whom this book and the book of Acts is addressed. The name is Greek, and we think the man Luke writes to, whether real or fictional, was a Roman officer or someone of high rank in the Roman government. The main point—this man was probably a Gentile, a non-Jew whom Luke wanted to teach so that Theophilus could both learn about Jesus, and also spread the news among Roman society. A few writers suggest that Theophilus is an imaginary person, a technique used by writers to present a specific viewpoint, but most scholars believe that Theophilus was an actual man, most likely a Gentile of high position (referring to Theophilus as ‘most excellent’ (v. 3) suggests this).

What this means is that the message of Jesus was spreading far beyond the Jews and was becoming common among the Gentiles. This is big, boundary-busting news. All of the gospels were written after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, and they were meant to convey the power and presence of God’s son on earth. Luke is especially meticulous in his telling, bringing in these early stories of pre-birth to lay out the fullness of the story and its foundation.

Reading familiar gospel passages can be both wonderful and useless. What I mean is that I will often read what I know without looking for details of what I can still learn. It will be tempting for us to kind of skim details because they are familiar, but dig in deeper. I know that I have been blessed every time I set aside the time to do that, to ask questions, to see what I have not seen before. How is it possible that God continues to have new things stored up for those who love him?

Be blessed and be a blessing to others,


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